Tag Archives: Guillermo Del Toro

Hellboy

In the final days of WWII, the Nazis attempt some sort of magic to bolster their faltering cause, but instead they open up a portal through which Hellboy arrives and is adopted by an Allied scientist, Professor Broom. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is raised in Broom’s lab, among other, erm, special…entities, such as firestarter Liz (Selma Blair) and the aquatic and telepathic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, but voiced by David Hyde Pierce). So though Hellboy looks a lot like a demon with his horns (which he carefully files down) and his red skin and freaky arm, he’s actually been more of a force for good, deployed when only his special skills will do: welcome to the (secret) bureau for paranormal research and defense.

W4lFb0LOf course, no one would make a movie about a guy just doing his part to make the world a safer place – not one called Hellboy, anyway. Those Nazi fucks are back, and their aim is to recruit Hellboy back to the dark side, where he belongs.

With master of horror Guillermo del Toro leading the way, the Hellboy movie is at its best when Hellboy is among the people he loves; it’s the quieter moments between the impressive action sequences that give this movie heft. Perlman is pretty damn magnetic as the spawn of satan, and delivers the kind of dry humour that no other comic book movie has come close to. It’s not a perfect movie but you can tell how del Toro has tried to smooth out some of the uneveness between Hellboy’s down time and his work. There’s more to him than you might guess and despite his monstrous looks, he’s got a good dose of humanity {this is a common theme of del Toro’s, I’ve noticed: the true monsters are never the ones who look the part}.

Clearly a fan of the source material, del Toro embraces some of Hellboy’s ridiculousness. He’s faithful to the wit and the charm and the misfittedness of the whole endeavour. And actually, who better than del Toro, who has made a career out of defining and applauding the outcasts, to pay homage to the movement’s red leader?

Hellboy is a lot of fun if you give yourself up to it. It already has a memorable character, and Perlman is nothing if not the perfect choice to play him. But Guillermo del Toro is also the perfect choice to colour in his surroundings. The production design set the standard for all comic book movies that came after. Del Toro knows that the details are where it’s at – it’s where old fans will find home, and new fans will be created.

 

A new Hellboy is in the works; not the third movie proposed by Del Toro and Perlman, but a complete reboot starring David Harbour instead, which has lots of fans rather upset. We’ll judge the new film on its own merits I suppose, but it feels like this one’s already going in the wrong direction.

 

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Crimson Peak

Having somewhat of a crush on Guillermo del Toro’s movies, I watched Crimson Peak soon after it came out, despite my being a huge chicken. But I refused to review it because I was sure I didn’t really get it: the film had gotten tepid reviews, but my initial reaction was anything but lukewarm. On a recent del Toro kick I’ve rewatched it and came to the same conclusion: Crimson Peak is kind of great.

Okay, it’s not epic story-telling the way The Shape of Water is, but it’s a visual master piece that succeeds in both creeping us out and sucking us in.

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young woman both relatable but maddening hero_Crimson-Peak-2015because she spurns the favour of her childhood friend, a mild-mannered, handome doctor who cares for her (Charlie Hunnam) in favour of the mysterious badboy newcomer (Tom Hiddleston). Even the brutal murder of her beloved father doesn’t stop her from flitting off to England to a crumbling old mansion atop a mountain that oozes blood-red clay with new hubby Thomas (Hiddleston) and his wicked sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) as her only (living) roommates.

Del Toro has crafted an ode to gothic ghost stories. The story is simple but the visuals a sumptuous feast, with every inch of his Victorian sets crammed with macabre detail that are never without meaning. He couldn’t do it without some talented help. Thomas E. Sanders (Braveheart, Hook, Star Trek: Beyond; Oscar nominated for Saving Private Ryan and Dracula), who died earlier this year, was responsible for the incredibly rich production design. The mansion was built in its entirety on a sound stage, its layered look reflecting the generations of the Sharpe family who would have lived within it. Although inspired by period architecture, this being a del Toro film, everything was amplified and magnified. The details are familiar but the effect they create it startling and rather lavish. It helps to create a world in which the supernatural feels like a natural fit. Kate Hawley (Edge of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad), costumer extraordinaire, used a lot of the same principles on her end. Every single piece in the film was hand-stitched specifically for it. Though styles and silhouettes were inspired by the fashion of the time (circa 1901), every piece is elevated and la-ca-hc-guillermo-crimson-peak-20151011made more moody, more dramatic. Weeks and weeks were spent stitching an intricate detail onto one of Chastain’s dresses that gets a lot of screen time. And this being a haunting ghost story, every costume had to look just as meticulous from behind, for those eerie shots down darkened hallways.

Tom Hiddleston I can generally take or leave (well, preferably leave) but Jessica Chastain continues to impress with her versatility and restraint. And interestingly, it’s del Toro staple Doug Jones who packs a major wallop. A classically-trained mime and contortionist, most of Jones’ best work is done under heavy layers of prosthetics, but embodying several of the ghosts in this film, he reminds us just how creepy a mere movement of the arm can be.

Guillermo del Toro is a master orchestrator of aesthetic and imagination. Crimson Peak’s script doesn’t quite hold up to its incredible production design, but it chills your bones when it wants to and sets your blood pumping overtime when it needs to. There are twisted monsters hidden in the depths of the Allerdale mansion, but like his crowning achievement The Shape of Water, they aren’t always who you expect.

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Rim

Some sort of portal opens up in the ocean’s floor, and the aliens that flow through are immense monsters called Kaiju. A war ensues that humans seem poised to lose until they develop humongous robots called Jaegars controlled neurologically by two synched-up pilots. The world’s resources are devoted to these specialized weapons, but the Kaijus only up the ante. Now, with resources dwindled and the world seeming defenseless, we’ve got one last chance, with a fallen, washed up pilot in Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and a complete novice in Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi).

Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) runs the last-ditch program but even he doesn’t have confidence in the only option they’ve got left. And two wacky scientists (Charlie Day, Burn Gorman) on his team are devoting their time and energy to connecting neurologically to the Kaiju, which is either a brilliant idea that will reveal the Kaiju’s plans or a terrible idea that will spoil the only thing the human race has going for them – the element of surprise.

Pacific Rim is a send-up to the fantastic monster movies of yore with the benefit of tumblr_mgeodlgqPl1qcga5ro1_500.gifmodern effects and technology – and yes, it looks slick as hell. It’s basically Transformers fighting dinosaurs, which appeals to the little boy that exists surprisingly near the surface of nearly every man I know. This movie was released just before my dear sweet nephew Ben was born, but it strikes me now as made especially for him. I know one day we’ll watch it together, and my old bones will creak for the next six months as we painstakingly recreate every battle scene without the benefit of CGI.

I may prefer del Toro’s smaller films, but his visionary genius means that when  you give him a pile of money to make a monster movie, he’s going to make you feel every inch of the enormity on screen. The scale is astonishing. Del Toro likes to create huge sets, giving his actors plenty of real stuff to react to, so though this movie is of course effects-heavy, it’s probably not as heavy as you think. There’s loads of practical stuff in there too – miniatures, and models, whole sets built on hydraulics so things will jostle exactly as they should when a mega monster stalks by. Guillermo del Toro is a world builder, and Pacific Rim has a lot of his usual hallmarks, just swathed in the gleeful fantasies of his inner 10 year old child.

This is likely the movie that keeps Michael Bay up at night, eating too much Häagen-Dazs: it’s the movie he always means to make but never knows how to.

You may have heard that a new Pacific Rim sequel (“Uprising”) is about to drop – without del Toro at the helm. He’s still producing but declined to direct in order to make The Shape of Water instead (good call, Guillermo!). Charlie Hunnam isn’t returning either (opting to do Pappillon instead, with Legendary’s blessing), so instead John Boyega fills his shoes as Stacker’s son and Mako’s new partner. Are the monsters back? Substitute director Steven DeKnight will attempt to answer – but as a noob, he seems at an immediate disadvantage. I mean, he did direct one episode of Daredevil and 2 of Smallville, so as a white male, that more than qualifies him to have a go at a $150M project. I can’t imagine that he’ll replicate anything like Guillermo’s instinct and soul, but we’ve not got long to wait: Uprising drops in March 2018.

 

Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters

Guillermo del Toro has long been one of my favourite story-tellers even though he makes movies that, technically, I shouldn’t care to see. He operates mostly within genres – horror and fantasy being his favourite, and generally, my least favourite. But I’ve been drawn in by the visual spectacle. There is beauty in everything he creates. It sparks my imagination, as it so clearly springs from his. Sean hasn’t seen as much of his catalogue as I have but I hesitate to rewatch them with him because to be honest, lots of his movies have genuinely scared me. It’s not the monsters or the horror that’s scary, it’s del Toro’s excellent world-building. You can get lost in the details, and that’s what haunts me. These fabulous details really fuck with me: anyone can create a monster, but when that monster has a horrifying little trinket on a shelf in his cave, that thing whispers to me, sticks with me.

Del Toro grew up in Mexico, raised by a strict Catholic grandmother who tried to exorcise him (twice) because of the monsters that sprang from his pen. Sean and I were DSC_0001in Toronto this weekend where the Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting a special exhibit on Guillermo del Toro called At Home With Monsters. Del Toro’s visual panache extends well outside the bounds of his film making. The themes that so often crop up in his movies appeal to him in his real life as well: religion, death, magic and alchemy, gods and monsters, insects and their symbolism, gothic detailing. He’s obsessed with Charles Dickens, Frankenstein, and macabre art – so much so that when his collection overwhelmed his home, he bought two more just to house the stuff. Adjoining the two houses, which he calls Bleak House, it has become a museum of sorts, stuffed to the gills with every crazy thing that’s ever inspired him. And now he’s curated from among his pieces and sent them out into the world for the rest of us to enjoy and think over. The exhibit comprises some 400 pieces – just 10% of his collection, but still more vast than I had anticipated, and it includes story boards, props, and costumes from his movies. It runs in Toronto until January 7th so you should really check it out if you can. If you can’t, you can try to console yourself with just a small sampling below.

20171217_144349Del Toro based the Pale Man’s face on the underside of a manta ray – as a kid he found the fish’s tiny mouth and nostril slits frightening. In Pan’s Labyrinth, the Pale Man consumes fairies and children, but in today’s political climate del Toro sees his creation as an example of predatory white male supremacy. Just after the 2017 US Presidential inauguration, he tweeted “The Pale Man represents all institutional evil feeding on the helpless. It’s not accidental that he is a) Pale b) a Man He’s thriving now”

There’s also a piece about how del Toro believes that simply moving the eyes creates a monster. It gave me shivers: he’s not wrong, is he?

Kate Hawley did the wonderful costumes for Crimson Peak. Her team spent 8 weeks on the leaf motif of Jessica Chastain’s blue dress alone. Period pieces are always a challenge, but for this movie, with del Toro always wanting more more more, every piece had to be created from scratch, often taking inspiration and silhouettes from real life vintage pieces but being made more dramatic, with more fabric and volume than would have been historically accurate, strictly speaking.

This you may recognize as the Angel of Death from Hellboy II: The Golden Angel. Again20171217_150534 del Toro has simply moved the eyes to instantly create monstrosity. We learn as babies to expect two eyes, and when we don’t find them where they should be, it’s instantly disorienting. He drew inspiration from the archangels of medieval manuscripts, which had eyes on the feathers of their wings. The Angel of Death has a bony faceplate and misplaced eyes, making it literally blind to human suffering – the opposite of what we think a ‘guardian’ angel should be, which throws us off balance. Del Toro is really, really good at that. He defies and challenges our expectations.

Wooden puppets created by Simon Verela for The Book of Life. Guillermo del Toro’s works are always about death in one way or another, and his dead characters don’t often stay dead. But The Book of Life is actually a celebration of life, and a vibrant tribute to Mexican folklore.

Yes, that enormous Frankenstein head really does usually hang in the entrance of Guillermo del Toro’s home. Frankenstein is his favourite movie monster and his memorabilia is plentiful. “Frankenstein, to me, is instrumental in the way I see the world…It is the essential narrative of the fall of man into an imperfect world by an uncaring creator.”

20171217_151039  The Faun, from Pan’s Labyrinth, was inspired by del Toro’s recurring childhood dream (nightmare?) of a goat-faced figure who slowly emerged from behind his armoire. In the film, the Faun is intended as neither good nor evil, like nature, he is there to witness but has no agenda – he literally doesn’t care whether Ofelia lives or dies.

These are part of a distinctly sad collection in the exhibit – concept art from a movie that never got made. HP Lovecraft has always been a huge inspiration in everything that del Toro does, and he spent a decade adapting Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness for the screen. In fact he and his studios have created over 400 pieces of art, part of the pitch they presented over and over to studios, who have rejected his wish for an R-rated tentpole horror with no love story or happy ending (even with Tom Cruise and James Cameron on board to produce). With Oscar buzzing around his The Shape of Water, will del Toro’s At The Mountains of Madness finally get made, or will this always be the one that got away?

Anything here look familiar? Aside from his influences, this exhibit covers all of Guillermo del Toro’s movies except his most recent. Which ones can you identify?

 

The Shape of Water

What did we ever do to deserve Guillermo Del Toro? The man is willing to crack his head open and allow his most beautiful dreams to spill out, onto the big screen, for our viewing pleasure. The Shape of Water, a delicious period piece with fantasy elements, is just about as sumptuous and satisfying as it gets at the movies.

Sally Hawkins, an inspiring casting choice, plays Eliza, a mute woman working as a cleaner at a top secret government facility. She and her cleaning partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer in a role she was born to play, because between Hidden Figures and The Help, MV5BZDU0NmU1NDUtNjMyNi00YTMyLTgwNWUtNTVmMzQ3NzJjNTJmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTk1MzcwNTI@._V1_she already has) stumble upon agent Strickland’s (Michael Shannon) latest capture, a humanoid sea creature reportedly worshiped as a god by the Amazonians. Set against the Cold War era, the Americans hope this scaly curiosity will give them a leg up against the Ruskies are and prepared to torture the secrets out of their prisoner – and worse. But sweet Eliza spots the creature’s humanity and her kind heart urges her to save him. She enlists a scientist at the facility (Michael Stuhlbarg) and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) in her daring escape plan, but Strickland isn’t going to let this career-defining prize slip through his rotting fingers.

The Shape of Water is poetic and beautifully stylized. I fell in love during the opening shot, an ethereal scene that establishes the fairy-tale quality of the story. The whole film is richly textured; it feels like a story book you’ll want to step inside. Full credit to production design and art direction for creating a living, breathing piece of art that feels grounded in reality but often has this other-wordly, heightened reality feel to it that you just don’t find in your average film. The script, a Guillermo-Vanessa Taylor hybrid, is a phenom. It so smartly sets up all that is to come with careful, quiet nods. This is a movie with many small pleasures, many delights to savour. Because our heroine is non-speaking, the score plays a major role, and composer Alexandre Desplat is more than equal to the task. Del Toro weaves magic into threads of monster movie – love story – musical – spy thriller – comedy. I’m not sure which of these is more surprising, but all are very welcome. You may hear from others that this is Del Toro’s best since Pan’s Labyrinth, but they’re lying. I believe this is his best, full stop.

The Shape of Water wouldn’t be nearly so special without Sally Hawkins’ grace and measured precision. She’s wonderful, full of light, communicating much with little. Eliza is a woman of small parameters. Her life is ordered and banal. She’s suffering in her loneliness when she meets her merman, and her outsider status allows her to view him not as a monster but as a kindred spirit. Richard Jenkins meanwhile is restrained as the starving artist next door. Michael Shannon is anything but as the man who gets the job done at any cost – unless his vanity gets in the way. He’s awfully fond of the trappings of success. You might be starting to get an idea of what makes this script so lush: all the characters are brought fully to life. This is the clown car of movies, a film filled to the gills with interesting ideas and perfect little moments and scene-stealing details.

You don’t just watch a movie like The Shape of Water, you feel it, you experience it. We saw its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week but it’s coming to a cinema near you this December, and you won’t want to miss it. Hawkins’s name will be on the Oscar ballot and I’m guessing Del Toro’s will be too – maybe even twice.