Archive for July, 2010

“Clash of the Titans” Titanically Sinks

Posted in Action with tags , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by ericstraus

Hollywood has been awash with remakes over the last decade, confirming the overwhelming lack of originality and creativity in the industry.  Most of the remakes have been unnecessary, due either to the original not being good in the first place, or due to the original being a classic which a remake would ruin.  But occasionally a film comes along begging for a remake – such was the case with “Clash of the Titans.”  Originally released in 1981 and featuring big names like Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith, and starring a young, hunky Harry Hamlin as Perseus, it was a fun Greek mythology story, with perhaps some of the worst special effects imaginable.  It’s not like 1981 was so long ago – the effects in “Star Wars,” released 4 years prior, had far more advanced effects than the original “Titans” did.  Full of stop-motion animation and claymation effects, the original film is laughable despite the good story.  So when I heard a remake was in the works, I was excited to see how the digital and CG effects could breathe new life into the film.  And on that front, the film succeeded.  But while the film stays close to the original storyline, the film feels rushed; it completely obliterates any of the “epic” quality that Greek myths inherently possess, throwing all its weight behind the action and effects, resulting in nothing more than a disappointing, boring action movie.

Sam Worthington stars in the remake as Perseus, born to a human woman but fathered by Zeus (Liam Neeson).  Mankind has begun to revolt against the gods, angry that they toil and suffer for them and get no reward.  Zeus’ brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the Underworld, convinces Zeus that the only way to get humans to start praying to Mount Olympus again is to drive fear and terror into their hearts, specifically by releasing the Kraken, and undersea gargantuan monster capable of destroying entire cities in minutes.  Perseus had watched Hades murder his family, and bent on revenge, he learns that the Stygian Witches know how to defeat the Kraken – cut the head off Medusa and turn the Kraken to stone with her gaze.  The film follows the journey of Perseus and soldiers from Argos, the Kraken’s next target, as he tries to accomplish this task.  Along the way he battles giant scorpions, befriends a tribe of ancient peoples, and eventually battles Medusa and the Kraken, flying on his winged horse Pegasus.

There is one acknowledgment of the original film, which was tactfully done.  The original featured a robotic owl creature of sorts that aided Perseus on his journey – it made no sense whatsoever in the original film.  In the remake, as Perseus and the soldiers are arming themselves for their travels, he picks up the owl and asks what it is.  “Nothing,” says one of the soldiers, and Perseus tosses it aside. 

This film could have been great.  If they had bothered to create any kind of character depth; if they had written dialogue that discussed the relationship between gods and man; if they had allowed Perseus’ journey to stretch out longer, to create a sense of suspense and exasperation; if they had taken any hints from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this film would have been great.  The battle scenes are well-done – but they are short, and we don’t care if anyone dies or not.  There’s no feeling of relief when Perseus finally saves Argos; no tension, no build-up, nothing.  Oh, here he comes…oh, the Kraken is dead. Zeus is happy.  The end.  Yes, Perseus has his revenge, but by the time it happens we just don’t care. 

So it seems the two films have switched places – the first was a great, epic tale with horrendous special effects, and the new film is a short, bland story with great special effects.  My recommendation – don’t bother seeing either film.

Final Grade for Clash of the Titans:  C-

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Synoptic Six

Posted in Action, Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Oscar winner, Oscar-nominated, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by ericstraus

I know all 3 of you who regularly read these film reviews have been wondering if I’d given up the movie blog, being that it’s been a good 5 weeks or so since the last post.  But no, I return to you today with brief reviews of the six films I’ve seen since that last post; hopefully this will satiate your itching desire to know what I think of these recently released DVDs.  Enjoy.

The Messenger – A moving film with superb acting performances from Woody Harrelson (Oscar-nominated) and Ben Foster.  Two Army men are tasked with personally informing families that their loved ones have perished during combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  The veteran Harrelson and the newcomer Foster have differing views about how their job should be carried out, complicated more when Foster begins to have feelings for one of the widows he meets.  There is a decent amount of humor which helps to keep the film from being a complete downer; the relationship between Harrelson and Foster and their performances make the film well worth a viewing.  Final Grade for The Messenger:  B+

From Paris with LoveA fast-paced, silly action film that is a sort of throwback to the cheeky Schwarzenegger films of the 80’s, fraught with one-liners and a pointless story.  John Travolta is actually quite entertaining as a rebellious CIA agent who does things his way, but always gets the job done.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers is pulled into Travolta’s world as a young CIA agent trying to stop a terrorist plot, and the two men battle bad guys all around the City of Light.  The action sequences are very fun to watch, if you’re into that sort of thing, and even some of Travolta’s one-liners are funny.  But it’s little more than a big-budget action film; if you’re looking for character depth, or depth of any kind for that matter, don’t.  But lots of explosions and car chases make for a fun popcorn movie, and to that end, the film delivers.  Final Grade for From Paris with Love:  C+

Edge of DarknessIt’s hard to judge a Mel Gibson film these days without considering what’s been going on in his personal life, but I’ll sure try.  This movie marks Gibson’s return to the screen following his anti-semitic diatribe and drunk driving offense, and overall it’s not bad.  Gibson is a homicide detective who watches his college-age daughter get gunned down right in front of him.  He assumes that he was the target, but as he investigates he learns that his daughter was a political activist and she indeed was intentionally murdered.  He throws the police rulebook away as he conducts his own interrogations, stopping at nothing to discover the truth.  The film has some gritty, intense sequences, but too much of the film is spent on Gibson’s personal reflection and humdrum investigation scenes.  By the time he finds his daughter’s killer, we’re not too bent on seeing him exact his revenge (which we all knew was coming) – there’s no real climax to the film.  Gibson is decent, but it’s obvious the drama in his personal life has taken a toll on his acting chops – he seems like he’s aged a lot more than he actually has, and it’s hard to know how much of the anger and desperation his character takes on is Gibson’s acting or Gibson’s actual personality these days.  Final Grade for Edge of Darkness:  C

The Blind SideI usually make it a point to not see Sandra Bullock movies; most of the time she does films I wouldn’t see anyway, but I usually just don’t like her as an actor.  But with her Oscar hype for this film, I decided to let go my dislike for her and watch the movie; she does deliver a fine performance – not sure if it was Oscar-worthy, but it didn’t annoy me, so that speaks volumes.  The film is a true story of Michael Oher, a young man who has sprinted through the foster system from family to family, never finding a home, and is eventually taken in by the Tuohy family.  The Tuohys are very well-off, and Oher is presented with opportunities he’s never had – Bullock takes him clothes shopping, gets him a tutor, and he begins to understand what it means to be a family.  Colleges begin to recruit him as his terrific athletic ability becomes well-known, and it’s up to Bullock and her family to keep him grounded and safe.  Bullock is very charming as the no-nonsense mothering figure, whose compassion and love for someone like Michael extends to her own family, and actually makes you feel good that she’s based on a real person, Leigh Anne Tuohy.  Quinton Aaron is also very good as Oher; he’s convincing in his obliviousness to what many of us take for granted – family dinners, our own bed, etc.  The film definitely has some overly sappy scenes; the tearjerker moments, if you will.  But overall it’s a good movie, and the ending is particularly moving as they show video and photos of the real Michael Oher and the real Tuohy family.  Final Grade for The Blind Side:  B-

Green ZoneMatt Damon is an action star, as the three “Bourne” films prove.  Those films are sharp, intruiging and fun to watch.  “Green Zone” is not any of those things – it’s a boring military action film, and despite Damon’s always-good acting, it should never have been made.  Paul Greengrass directs this film – he directed the last two Bourne films, so it seems that someone thought putting him and Damon together again would be a good idea.  But they apparently forgot to get a good script to go with it.  The film tells a ficticious account of Iraq in 2003, shortly after the U.S. “liberation,” with specific focus to Army units trying to find WMDs.  Damon’s squad continuously comes up empty after their intelligence reports directs them to where supposed WMDs are being kept.  Damon begins to unravel a conspiracy between the U.S. and Iraqi governments, and of course his work puts a stop to it by the end.  Maybe it’s because the story is no longer timely, or maybe because it’s too close to the truth, but it’s not a compelling tale at all.  The action scenes are ok, but they don’t drive the plot and by the end we just don’t care.  Final Grade for Green Zone:  C-

Pirate Radio We saved the best for last.  This is a marvelous film about censorship and rock n’ roll in Britain in the late 60’s.  The British government has virtually banned pop music from its airwaves, but a group of DJs skirt the ban by broadcasting rock music 24 hours a day from a large commercial ship, anchored somewhere in the North Sea, much to the delight of English youth.  It’s basically an ensemble comedy, taking place almost entirely on the ship.  The writing ranges from funny to truly hysterical; the actors do a great job of delivering the hilarious lines.  Kenneth Branagh plays the government pencil-pusher whose mission is to stop the DJs from broadcasting.  His performance is wonderful, as he ranges from ecstatic when he thinks he’s come up with a fool-proof plan, to blisteringly angry when his plans are foiled.  The soundtrack is a delight as well, featuring a lot of well-known tracks from the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and the Who, but also touching on some less-known hits like Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and the Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind.”  The end of the film gets a bit silly, and at times it’s unnecessarily preachy regarding the music=freedom vs. music=indecency argument that we’ve become all-too familiar with regarding the 60’s.  There are also a couple of sub-plots that are amusing, but don’t drive the story much.  For those reasons I had to include the “minus” in the final grade – but overall it’s a very funny movie that entertains from start to finish, highlighted by Branagh and the other actors’ comedic performances.  Final Grade for Pirate Radio:  A-