Science Fiction Friday At The Cineplex

Daniel Holloway of Us Weekly reviews this week's new movies, including Hellboy 2 and Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Come back with me to July of 1988, 20 years ago this month. Three films that would change history were all released within weeks of each other, "License to Drive," "Short Circuit 2" and "Cocktail." Could this July possibly equal the July of two decades ago? Daniel Holloway of US Weekly joins us now to talk about this weekend's contributions to movie history. Hello, Daniel.

DANIEL HOLLOWAY: Hello, Mike.

PESCA: I believe it was "License to Drive" that starred Heather Graham as a character named Mercedes. Am I getting that right?

HOLLOWAY: Groundbreaking, groundbreaking role.

PESCA: Yeah. But back then, she was only a pretty face who couldn't act much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLOWAY: And look at her now. She's - she - yeah.

PESCA: Yeah. She's still pretty. Let's start with - let's start this week with "Hellboy II." Guillermo del Toro directs. He made "Pan's Labyrinth," which is artsy, but enough people saw it. It got not even an Oscar nomination for, you know, best foreign film, but other Oscar nominations, a very well-received movie. And then, though, Ang Lee made "The Hulk," so he was, like, an artsy director who tried a superhero movie. How's Guillermo del Toro do with "Hellboy"?

HOLLOWAY: Well, better than - better than Ang Lee. At least "Hellboy" doesn't spend a lot of time, you know, looking like one of the cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain," just ponderous and...

PESCA: Hm. that would be interesting.

HOLLOWAY: And brow furrowed. It probably would be interesting for about 90 seconds.

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: It's - you know, this is the sequel to the '94 film that del Toro did, and they're adopted from comics by Mike Mignola. It's OK. It's an OK film. It is not as good as "Pan's Labyrinth," which wasn't necessarily the best foreign-language - I don't think it deserved a best foreign-language film nomination last year.

PESCA: Really?

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, I mean, it was a very good movie. It wasn't a great movie. I think it had - people had a tendency to over-praise it a little bit. "Hellboy II" is an average movie in a summer where, you know, we have a lot of comic-book heroes running around, and you probably got to be a little bit better than average to get noticed.

PESCA: Right. Because maybe, you know, you reviewed "The Hulk" as essentially an average movie.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: I think we both like "Ironman."

HOLLOWAY: Yep.

PESCA: I didn't care for "Hellboy I." It wasn't terrible. It was - first of all, it's a comic-book hero. If someone is listening to this and they're like, oh, I don't really know comic books. Maybe Hellboy is a big character. He's not.

HOLLOWAY: No.

PESCA: He's semi-obscure.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: So, I guess, you could say that they were only trying to improve on mediocrity. How does it compare to "Hellboy I"?

HOLLOWAY: It's - I would say it's maybe, like, a half-step down, things that seemed new in "Hellboy I."

PESCA: Right. Just watching the big guy in red was interesting then.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. I mean, the highlight in this film is the same as the highlight in the last film was, which is Ron Perlman, who people might remember from the show "Beauty and the Beast." And he's entertaining to watch as Red, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLOWAY: As they call him in the film. You know, he carries around a big gun. He chews on a cigar...

PESCA: Baby Ruths. Right?

HOLLOWAY: It's Baby Ruths.

PESCA: Yeah. He has such a weird career, Ron Perlman. His physicality just only makes him, essentially, play monsters.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Have you ever - can you ever think of seeing him in anything where he wasn't wearing a ton of makeup?

PESCA: I believe he played Cosette in "Les Mis" on Broadway - no! I'm getting that wrong. That was '80s pop icon Debbie Gibson.

HOLLOWAY: Oh!

PESCA: Yeah. I sometimes confuse the two.

HOLLOWAY: So close.

PESCA: Hey, let's hear a scene from "Hellboy II." The conversation you're about to hear, which is an investigation of a crime scene, occurs over walkie-talkies.

(Soundbite of movie "Hellboy II")

Ms. SELMA BLAIR: (As Liz Sherman) Whatever they called us for is over. We had over 70 guests reported. We have no survivors, no bodies.

Mr. RON PERLMAN: (As Hellboy) I have a story here, babe.

Ms. BLAIR: (As Liz Sherman) Don't call me babe.

Mr. PERLMAN: (As Hellboy) Abe! I said, Abe!

Unidentified Actor: Wrong channel.

(Soundbite of sigh)

Mr. PERLMAN: (As Hellboy) Abe, I think Liz is still mad at me.

Ms. BLAIR: (As Liz Sherman) Still the same channel.

(Soundbite of thunder)

Mr. PERLMAN: (As Hellboy) Oh.

PESCA: Yeah. I don't know that we've ever seen that gag before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Actually, this isn't call-waiting. I'm the same person you were talking to. Is that Selma Blair who was talking? I like her.

HOLLOWAY: That is Selma Blair he was talking to, whom he has a relationship with. And she's just about the only character in the movie who isn't in heavy makeup. So, it's a little weird.

PESCA: Jeffrey Tambor, what about him?

HOLLOWAY: Jeffrey Tambor also not in heavy makeup, you're right. I stand corrected. And Tambor, underutilized in this film, hilarious and just, you know, makes you excited about the prospect of another "Arrested Development."

PESCA: Are there at least some - if you're a fan of at least set dressing and so forth, are there some Guillermo del Toro touches alone, you know, visually, that make it not worth the price of admission but at least something to look at?

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. I mean, del Toro makes a movie that is very much like the comic book it's adapted from. Mike Mignola is a really incredible artist. He's maybe a D+ writer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLOWAY: And I think - and del Toro adapted this. And I think del Toro is visually amazing and maybe a straight-C writer. There's some really interesting visual stuff going on, especially some steampunk gadgetry that you see that's really, you know, just sexy-looking and cool and fun to watch the little parts move around and stuff. And you know, he's going to be directing the upcoming "Hobbit" films. And this is kind of - you know, if you're the type of person who's going to get really excited about those, this is kind of a sneak peak of what that could look like.

PESCA: OK, so I guess this is a place Holdar (ph) keeps his, you know, muscles from atrophying before "The Hobbit" movies. Let's now "Journey to the Center of the Earth." The movie is in 3D, normally not a good sign. They don't say "Citizen Kane," not such a strong movie, let's make it in 3D. Also starring Brendan Fraser. Going to say it again, not such a good sign. I have many thoughts on Brendan Fraser. I like Brendan Fraser. He's always in what used to be called serial movies or B movies.

And my theory is he, again, physically, he's six-foot-three. Most stars of today are small. So, most other really good actors don't want to work with him because he dwarfs them. So, he has to be in movies alone, and, kind of, he's always these throwbacks to these '50s characters. I guess "The Mummy" took place in the '30s. Where - does "Journey to the Center of the Earth," even though it was written by Jules Verne in the, you know, 1800s, what time period does it take place in?

HOLLOWAY: I mean, it basically - it takes place in the here and now. But it basically takes place out of time, because most of the film except for, you know, the frame at the beginning and the end are, you know, kind of, they're out of context with any type of reality.

PESCA: Yeah. Well, how's this movie?

HOLLOWAY: The movie is OK. It's a kid's movie. It's in 3D. I saw it with a roomful of kids and they seemed to react well to it. You know, Fraser is a likeable screen presence. He's not the best actor. He's not the best-looking guy. But he is likeable. He's the type of guy that seems like, if you knew him and you broke down on the side of the road, he would come pick you up.

PESCA: He is a big lug. And if you look at his career - I mean, he first got noticed in "Encino Man," where he played someone from prehistory, and he was in "School Ties," which took place in the '50s, and "The Quiet American" and in "The Mummy," this, you know, the Allan Quatermain movies. He was in "George of the Jungle" and "Dudley Do-Right," which are cartoons, so he's kind of cartoonish, but also cartoons from 30 and 40 years ago. He just doesn't work well - or they won't cast him in modern movies. It's interesting.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. And what's the - there was the film with Alicia Silverstone where he...

PESCA: Yeah. He was a guy who still thought it was the '50s.

HOLLOWAY: Who still thought it was the '50s, yeah. I can't remember what the name of that film was.

PESCA: I'll look that - but then he was also in "Gods and Monsters."

HOLLOWAY: Yeah, he is - you know, it's an interesting point. He is kind of a throwback guy. I don't know, though, that, you know, how interesting is it when the throwback movies that he's doing aren't themselves very interesting?

PESCA: Well, we do have a quote from "Journey to the Center to the Earth." And before we play it, we have to say that this audio is in 3D. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth")

Ms. ANITA BRIEM: (As Hannah Asgeirsson) That's not what I think it is.

Mr. BRENDAN FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Muscovite.

Mr. JOSH HUTCHERSON: (As Sean Anderson) What's muscovite?

Ms. BRIEM: (As Hannah Asgeirsson) Muscovite is a very thin type of rock formation.

Mr. HUTCHERSON: (As Sean Anderson) How thin?

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Well, ah, so thin that the slightest change of weight or pressure can cause it to shatter. And we're standing on a lot of it.

Ms. BRIEM: (As Hannah Asgeirsson) OK, Sean, we need to walk back exactly the way we came from very, very calmly, OK?

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Tread lightly. Heel, toe. Doing good.

Ms. BRIEM: (As Hannah Asgeirsson) That's it. That's great.

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Really calm.

Ms. BRIEM: (As Hannah Asgeirsson) Keep going.

(Soundbite of dramatic music)

Mr. HUTCHERSON: (As Sean Anderson) (Shouting) No!

(Soundbite of cracking rock)

(Soundbite of heavy breathing)

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) Whew.

(Soundbite of nervous laughter)

Mr. FRASER: (As Trevor Anderson) It's actually thicker that I thought it...

(Soundbite of shattering rock)

(Soundbite of screams)

HOLLOWAY: Just waiting for that from the time he says...

PESCA: People are only calm in a 3D movie for one reason, to set up the ahhhh! So, they talk about muscovite there. That's someone from Moscow. Well, what's the point?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HOLLOWAY: Muscovite, as explained by Brendan Fraser, scientist, is a rock that, I guess, is really thin.

PESCA: Ah.

HOLLOWAY: And I'm assuming the Internet is saying no?

PESCA: The Internet just told me that the Brendan Fraser movie we were trying to think of was "Blast from the Past." That is what the Internet is telling me.

HOLLOWAY: Ah! "Blast from the Past." Christopher Walken was in that movie.

PESCA: As Brendan Fraser's dad, great casting. They look so much alike.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And somehow there's a Tyrannosaurus rex at the center of the Earth.

HOLLOWAY: There's a Tyrannosaurus rex, and then some other things that are actually from the book. I don't believe the Tyrannosaurus rex is, and it's just the one. It's actually - the effects in this movie are a little disappointing.

PESCA: Aw.

HOLLOWAY: I mean, the 3D stuff is fine. The 3D stuff is cool. But it seems that they focused on that so much that, for instance, you know, when you have a dinosaur, it's not so great to have them running around in open desert. It looks like you spent all your animation money on the dinosaur and had no money for the backdrops.

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: You know, it's...

PESCA: Put them in, like, a 19th century parlor.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. Let them wear a top hat and a monocle.

PESCA: Yeah, that'd be cool. I'd see that movie. Another movie that I was excited to see, just based on the premise, was "August." And the "August" refers to the titular month, if you will, August of 2001, so it's right before our September 2001, when the world changed. But it's also a business movie about a time when the Internet was going gangbusters. Let's listen in. Things are going bad for the company.

(Soundbite of movie "August")

Mr. JOSH HARTNETT: (As Tom) So, where does that put us?

Ms. ROBIN TUNNEY: (As Melanie) The NASDAQ was down 87 points at the opening, and we're doing worse. We're below a dollar.

Mr. HARTNETT: (As Tom) So, what are our options?

Ms. TUNNEY: (As Melanie) Cutbacks, layoffs. But then there's the whole perception thing. Rumors, the sniping, the downward spiral could sink us.

Mr. ANDRE ROYO: (As Dylan) So, we're probably looking at another round of financing.

Ms. TUNNEY: (As Melanie) We got an offer from Barton Ogilvie.

Mr. HARTNETT: (As Tom) What's the catch?

Mr. ROYO: (As Dylan) Second-round financing is not easy.

Ms. TUNNEY: (As Melanie) They'll pay market value, but they're going to want a big piece. This is no time to be proud, Tom.

Mr. HARTNETT: (As Tom) Nah, that's not the play. That's not the way we're going to do it. I'll cash flow the company myself if I have to.

Ms. TUNNEY: (As Melanie) You're in no position to do that. You're leveraged to the hilt.

Mr. HARTNETT: (As Tom) I'll find the (beep) money.

Mr. ROYO: (As Dylan) You're broke, Tom.

PESCA: Wow! Who's Tom? Who was talking? What the heck was going on?

HOLLOWAY: It's MySpace Tom. It's not actually MySpace Tom.

PESCA: Oh.

HOLLOWAY: It's Josh Hartnett, and he plays Tom. He's the CEO and public face of a tech startup called Landshark who...

PESCA: That's a good name.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah. And either cleverly or annoyingly, you never find out throughout the entire movie what exactly it is that Landshark does.

PESCA: That's a cool MacGuffin.

HOLLOWAY: It's some sort of web application.

PESCA: OK. I'm onboard so far. I like the time setting. I like the thing they're talking about. Josh Hartnett, don't love, but, you know, maybe with a good script he could do something. Does he? What goes on here?

HOLLOWAY: You know, it's not "Glengarry Glen Ross," and it should be. Hartnett is not - when I first saw this movie, I though the script was the problem. I saw this movie a few months ago, and then I re-watched it this week, and I realized that the script is not the problem. There are two problems. One is Hartnett. He's not a very interesting actor. You know, tell me, you know, off the top of your head one movie that you've enjoyed him in.

PESCA: Yeah. No, I liked, you know, "Black Hawk Down."

HOLLOWAY: OK.

PESCA: But he had such a small role in a huge ensemble cast. Otherwise, when he's asked to carry a movie, you're right, he doesn't - he can't.

HOLLOWAY: And here, what he's trying to do, he's trying to play Tom Cruise in "Magnolia" or a darker version of Tom Cruise in " Jerry Maguire." Interestingly enough, he also just signed on to do an adaptation of "Rainman" in London's West End.

PESCA: Really?

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: Straight play? Not a musical, don't tell me?

HOLLOWAY: No, no, no. And he's going to play the Cruise part. So, there's something very specific that they're going for here. You know, it's - they're on - they're basically, like, a week away, the company is, from going kaput. And he's trying to put up the face of, you know, we're still the aggressive, like, in-your-face tech people. And it should work, and it could work with a different actor. And it could work if they just - it's interesting watching the character try to sell. It's not interesting watching the director try to sell you on how sexy this world of, you know, Internet-startup, techie people who go around swank bars and insult each other and hook up with hot women.

PESCA: Yeah, that's familiar. It's like if - anyone who will see this movie is old enough to remember that. So you probably don't need too much underlining. And let me give you a quote of you, which is a great line. "Why expend so much effort in defining a pre-9/11 world if not to comment on a post-9/11 world?" It's a good point. They don't? There's no connection?

HOLLOWAY: There's - you know, there are a lot of parallels drawn to the point that they frequent - and I know this only because I used to work in the neighborhood - that they frequent a nudie bar that is literally blocks away from the World Trade Center site. There's a lot of - this thing looms over the movie the entire time. And it doesn't need to. I understand the need to place it seven or eight years ago so that you have the bursting of the tech bubble as a backdrop. But the idea - you know, there are constant, you know, constant TV footage of George W. Bush. You know, then he'll change the channel and there will be, you know, a man on fire.

PESCA: Yeah.

HOLLOWAY: It constantly looms over this thing to no end, and it becomes a little frustrating and a little annoying after awhile. And once the movie is over and you realize that it was kind of pointless, you feel a little pissed off.

PESCA: A little used.

HOLLOWAY: Yeah.

PESCA: Yeah, thanks for putting me through, or at least making me contemplate that emotionally for no reason. You're right. It's like, you know, there are certain scenes that you can do in drama that you've got to be very careful with. You know, that's one of them you don't show. Like, you don't aim a gun at the audience, another convention of cinema and drama. You, sir, are an unconventional man. But I want to thank you for your participation.

HOLLOWAY: Pleasure.

PESCA: Our movie guy's name is Daniel Holloway. He writes for US and reviews movies for US. If you can figure that out, you win. Thanks a lot, Daniel.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you.

PESCA: And that is it for this hour of the BPP. We're always online at npr.org./bryantpark. I am Mike Pesca. This is The Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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