Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Director Report Card: Guillermo del Toro (1993-2002)

1. Cronos
One of the few vampire movies released in the past twenty years that you could truly describe as original. The acting is great from all the leads, though it’s Tamara Shanath who is the most surprising talent. She has one line of dialogue in the whole movie but manages to create a real character with just her body language and facial mannerisms. Consider how young the actress is makes this even more amazing. And that’s good too, because if the relationship between the grandfather and the granddaughter didn’t work, I doubt the movie would have either. It is this that is at the heart of the film and is its main driving force.

The golden scarab that set-ups the film’s plot is the first of del Toro’s clockwork creations, which is a reoccurring theme, you’ll discover. The photography is very moody and the final image stays with you for some time. The mixture of Spanish and English is distracting and the film is deliberately slow-paced, but it more then makes up for that with its creativity and heart.
[Grade: A-]

2. Mimic
This is a pretty basic monster movie that benefits from Guillermo’s strength for atmosphere and some pretty good special effects. It is the first of his films to feature underground caverns and the second to have an imaginative child be part of the plot. The opening would work great as a short film and is probably the scariest part throughout, with its brilliant use of shadows, light, and sound effects.
As the movie delves into the cliché characters, it gets less interesting. The majority of the first act should have been more interesting but it’s mostly set-up being laid down. As soon as we get to the underground, we are greeted to a good number of well handled scare scenes. Toro’s use of shadows is of particular note. While much of the CGI hasn’t aged well, the mutant bugs are still interestingly designed monsters. The ending could have been a little better, however, and lacks a certain satisfaction. An entertaining picture, but not as imaginative as some of del Toro’s other work. [Grade: B]

3. The Devil's Backbone
“The Devil’s Backbone” is a movie about a lot of things, ultimately. It’s a coming of age story, a loss of innocence. But it’s also got a buried treasure. It’s a ghost story, though the ghosts are probably the least of the character’s problems. It’s a movie about a war, but more about how it affects people and less about the conflict itself. When you get down to the barebones, it’s about children trying to survive a harsh world during a harsh time, a theme del Toro has since revisited.
His writing is really impressive here, as he manages to develop a large cast and each one of their stories successfully. The actors are all excellent, especially the young boys who are just as good as any of the older cast members.

He creates many eerie, spooky images, especially when the ghost of Santi is concerned. (Honestly, he’s one of the cooler ghost designs I’ve seen in recent memory.) But it’s a melancholy film in the end, a meditation on childhood and eternity.
[Grade: A]

4. Blade II
An action movie that kicks ass with a capital K. This is the first time del Toro gets a chance to show off his skills as an action director and he proves to be just as talented there as he is in other territories, though his use of CGI is questionable. It’s also a good sequel in that it keeps everything from the first film that works and ditches what didn’t, builds upon number’s one themes, and adds just enough new stuff to make it interesting.
Wesley Snipes skills as an actor might be in questions but he has enough charisma to make up for that and Kris Kristofferson and Ron Perlman are always interesting to watch. The plot is surprisingly good for a film like this with several twists here and there. The special effects and gore are also excellent with the neat looking new Reaper vampires.

The film’s energy peters out before it ends and you get the feeling that there is maybe one action scene too many. The cast is also too big with most of the characters getting killed before really getting developed. It feels more like a Guillermo del Toro movie then a Blade movie at times, though I really don’t think that’s a bad thing. Underground caverns/tunnels/mazes? Yes! Clockwork or scared little kids? Unfortunately, no.
[Grade: B+]

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