Recommended. Good ole fashioned clarity of good and evil in a morally confused era. Bad guys try to conquer the world by opening a portal to another dimension for some evil beings to come through. Unfortunately, the story or plot is not as clear as the morality. Hitler tried to open the portal by using the occult and Rasputin and now the bad guys are trying to do it again. But the first time, a little guy came through who looked like a demon but was raised by a good professor to fight evil at the Institute of the Paranormal (that doesn’t exist of course). Anyway, it never really explains why Hellboy looks like a demon but is not. Is this supposed to explain spiritual manifestations as really something more like aliens misinterpreted as demons? (Shades of Stargate). Or is this a confusing mixture of spiritual and alien culture? Just doesn’t make clear. This movie has a lot of rather shallow Christian symbolism because of the professor being an ex-priest, but at least positive symbols, which I applaud. It’s just too bad, it was not wrapped up into the theme as it should have been. Like why was the priest relevant to the situation if Hellboy was not a demon, but a being from another dimension that is not spiritual. Didn’t make sense to me. One of the clever sayings was, “In the absence of light, darkness prevails,” which I guess means something akin to “The only way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” But more importantly, the theme is reiterated in the film by the protagonist, “What makes a man? His origins? I don’t think so. It’s the choices he makes and how he chooses to make them.” This is supposed to reflect Hellboy’s pathos of trying to fit into society, but being rejected because they misunderstand him as evil, when he is really good. They think of him as inhuman when he is humanlike. This is a common theme of diversity in movies these days (X-Men, Hidalgo, etc.) and I hope it does not get to be too tired. Unfortunately, this is pretty much just another formula action FX movie where, in addition to the FX and stunts, the key to it’s success is how many clever lines they can throw in to make the heros look cool and sarcastic before they woop the bad guys. That’s fine by me, especially since this one has some great lines. But it is ultimately unfocused in story.

American Splendor

Ambivalent Recommendation. This is an interesting movie based on the real life, below average existence of pessimist Harvey Pekar, a file clerk who became a comic book legend (along with a couple of his coworkers). The movie is done with some very creative self-reflective storytelling. Though the film is a dramatic narrative, there is an occasional cutaway to the real Harvey Pekar in documentary style self-reference, commenting on the movie and interacting with the actors. Harvey even comments on how the actor playing him doesn’t really look like him (he actually does). The premise is the premise of the comicbook, namely that Harvey is inspired by his hum drum existence and pessimistic perspective to make a comic book about “real” life, about the insanity of normalcy, to combat the unrealistic flights of fancy that most people read about in comics (and the movies in this case). His mantra throughout is that people need to face “reality” and stop living in dream worlds. Interesting though that the film is self-aware that it is NOT reality with its documentary anecdotes and the comicbook style cinematography. Harvey gets cancer and we go through this part of his life as well, the “reality” of it being edited down to brief references. And that is the central deceit of “realism.” Whose “reality” is reality? To suggest that one’s own perceptions and interpretations of reality (Harvey’s being pessimistic) are the center of the universe, the “true reality” that others are missing, is perhaps the most ignorant and unreal self-absorbed arrogance. To claim privilege of perception is the prerogative of deity. So realism is actually more akin to original sin: pride. A better story would be for Harvey to grow up and realize that maybe there is a “reality” outside of his perception and negativity. That indeed, HE is the one who is blind to a world of possibilities outside of himself. It’s a fallen world, yes, but it is fallen splendor, a world created by God as “good,” with much pain, but much beauty. Wake up, Harvey. You’re in the Matrix.

The Cat in the Hat

Somewhat Recommended – but for adults. Well, not heartily, but for some good fun and laughs. Silly fun. Had a few great laughs at Mike Meyers humor and his Cowardly Lion impersonation. But you know, it’s sad how these filmmakers of kid movies have to put sexual innuendo into them. I’m not against some good subtle mature jokes that might go over kids’ heads, but come on, writhing dancing babes in mini-skirts, a reference to a centerfold porn, and a few other things seem inappropriate in a kid movie like this. And a pretty poor conclusion as the mom pats her irresponsible son on the head and says, he may be irresponsible, but he’s a good boy. Hello? Nothing like outright contradictions so typical of modern raising of children. Plus I don’t think a story about a prankster cat wreaking havoc is all that good of values for children whose real need is discipline and increasing responsibility as they grow up. Fun, yes, Chaos or havoc, no. The overly neurotic controlling little sister learns to loosen up and have some fun, and the slobbish undisciplined irresponsible brother learns that actions have consequences. But his is not a very strongly portrayed redemption. Could have been more clear.