Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, and for an extra $5.00 you can upgrade your ticket to see the movie in really badly rendered 3D. Much like the recent "Star Wars" prequels, "Clash of the Titans" takes a highly anticipated storyline and butchers it. This movie will still appeal to some who just want to see a modern special effects version of Greek mythology, but almost every thing that could have been great about "Clash of the Titans" ends up missing the mark.
Based on the 1981 Gen-X childhood staple of the same name, "Clash of the Titans" tells the story of Perseus the son of Zeus. The original film was very loosely based on the source material, but took major liberties in putting the final storyline together. (For example the Kraken is not from Greek mythology at all, but comes out of Norwegian stories.) This new adaptation starts with the original movie as its source material, and once again deviates into a very different plot line.
This newer version of "Clash of the Titans" centers around Zeus' fear of becoming neglected by man, and his brother Hades' plan to instill fear back into mortals so they will come begging for help again. The prayers of man are what gives the gods their power, and apparently man has begun to get a bit too independent. Hades appears before the humans and insists they sacrifice the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to the Kraken, or he will let the Kraken destroy their city. Liam Neeson is Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes is Hades. Watching these too acting greats in "Clash of the Titans" is painful. The last time these two were together was in "Schindler's List". Let's be honest, nobody is expecting "Clash of the Titans" to rival "Schindler's List", but Liam Neeson seemed more invested in his role in "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace". Fiennes is even worse. How director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter) managed to bring out such bad performances from these guys remains a mystery. None of the original banter between the gods is present in this remake. Poseidon may have had a speaking line or two, but essentially its Zeus and Hades, and any other gods in the movie are just there as background.
Perseus goes on a familiar quest to stop the princess Andromeda from being sacrificed to the Kraken monster. Showing up along the way are the Stygian Witches, Medusa, Pegasus, and even Calibos. (Calibos also has an entirely new backstory.) Sam Worthington is Perseus, two new characters join him in his quest. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) as Io, and Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) as Draco, accompany Perseus as he sets out to defeat the gods. In this version, there is absolutely no love story between Perseus and Andromeda. Perseus sets out to destroy the Kraken as a means of sticking it to the gods. If there is any romantic aspect to this movie, it is between Perseus and Io, and there isn't much there either. The emotional connection to Andromeda in the original movie is mainly realized through her relationship with Perseus. By removing the largest element of connection to Andromeda, the audience is left with much less investment in Perseus' ability to defeat the Kraken and save her. Whether it seems sappy or not, cheering for the power of love is always a lot more exciting that cheering on the protagonist "to really stick it to the man".
The problem with "Clash of the Titans" isn't the fact that so much of the story was changed. The problem is that in the process of changing things, somehow the fantasy, emotion, and magic of the original movie got lost. With the exception of Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects) who has a minor role as the adopted father of Perseus, almost all the acting in the movie is flat. Flat overall is the best way to describe "Clash of the Titans", and this is a film that should have at least been an edge-of-your-seat exciting summer blockbuster.
One thing that was impressive about this newer version was the Kraken itself. The old stop motion effects of Ray Harryhausen's original were great in their day, but obviously don't hold up to modern standards. The updated special effects in the new "Clash of the Titans" pay off for the most part. Medusa looks like more like a video game character than a living breathing creature, but the Kraken was awe-inspiring. One thing that Leterrier did right in this movie was to make sure that when the Kraken shows up, you really feel the awesome power behind it. You will absolutely believe that this monster could destroy a city. I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I didn't have to take my 3D glasses off to see it more clearly.
I'm not a huge fan of the 3D movement but I understood its place in "Avatar", a movie that was shot specifically for 3D and used it well. Even "Alice in Wonderland", and "How to Train Your Dragon" used the technology as well as possible, and it added to the overall experience of the visuals. I do however find it distracting, a bit overstimulating, and after about an hour and 45 minutes my eyes start to hurt. In the aforementioned movies, the 3D still added something to the films. In "Clash of the Titans", not only does the 3D add nothing, but it actually makes the movie worse. The 3D translation is so poorly done, that a lot of characters look like you are watching them through a fish-eye lens (you know, that hole in your front door that allows you to see who is outside). Unless you are just a huge fan of Greek mythology, or need to satisfy that nostalgic fix that has nagged at you since you first saw the trailer for this remake, "Clash of the Titans" is one to skip. But if you absolutely need to see it to feel complete, do yourself a favor and get a ticket to the regular 2D showing. Otherwise you might as well try to watch this movie through a scuba mask filled with water.
(Brent Sweeting writes for www.DailyMovieUpdate.com)
Thursday, March 25, 2010
"Hot Tub Time Machine" is a lot more fun than it has any right to be.
Hot Tub Time Machine
review by Brent Sweeting
3 out of 4 stars
"Hot Tub Time Machine" never pretends to be anything other than what it is, a fun romp through the '80s that is heavy on both current and past pop culture jokes and crude humor. No one ever actually looks directly into the camera and says, "We are sending these guys back through time in a hot tub. We know its ridiculous. Deal with it," but they come close. The entire tongue in cheek feel and randomness of the movie makes it obvious that no thought should be given to the plot of this movie. It is this acknowledgment of the ridiculousness of the story that keeps such an implausible idea from being insulting, and by the end of the film I actually found myself caring about what happened to the three main characters.
Directed by Steve Pink (who previously wrote the screenplays for "High Fidelity" and "Grosse Pointe Blank"), "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a story about three lovable losers that have all grown dissatisfied with how their lives have turned out. A freak accident sends them back in time, and along the way they learn a bit about the meaning of friendship. John Cusack is Adam, who has recently gone through a breakup and is still wondering about what might have happened with "the one that got away" back in 1986. Craig Robinson (TV's "The Office) is Nick. He works at a dog boutique and worries his wife is having an affair. Rob Corddry("Semi-Pro" and "Blades of Glory") is Lou who has never gotten his life together. He is that friend who never grows up that everyone has from their past. Adam and Nick have distanced themselves from Lou as they have grown up and moved on with their lives. But when Lou ends up in the hospital from a drunken mistake that is misinterpreted as a suicide attempt, the two old friends agree to try to cheer him up with a trip back to the ski resort town they partied at in their younger glory days. They bring Adam's nephew Jacob (Clark Duke of "Sex Drive") who never leaves his basement or his internet connection, along for the ride and the four head out. Shortly after arrival the four ingest nearly every drug known to man while hot-tubbing and the party begins. During the bacchanalian revelry that ensues, an energy drink with a mysterious ingredient spills in the electrical system of the tub causing it to send them back in time. Once they get back in time, the '80s jokes, cameos, and references come out of the woodwork. Chevy Chase is terribly underused as the hot tub repairman, but look for William Zabka (Johnny the bad boy from the original "The Karate Kid") as Rick, who Lou tries to engage in a sucker bet based on Lou's knowledge of the future. "Hot Tub Time Machine" addresses every time travel cliché you can imagine, and as in the previous example, it's usually done in a clever and funny way.
Channeling some of the randomness of earlier Cusack film "Better Off Dead", "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a lot more fun than it has any right to be. The story feels hastily thrown together, and some of the humor gets so crude that it borderlines on feeling cheap. An example of this is a dog poop splattering joke in the first 5 minutes of the film. What makes the film work in spite of everything it has going against it is the relationship between Cusack, Robinson, and Corddry's characters. The movie is funny too. It's not as funny as other recent crude humor comedies like "The Hangover" or "The 40 Year Old Virgin" but there are still a lot of laughs, especially if you can watch it with a group of friends. Some of the funniest parts in the movie involve a running gag with Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) playing a bellhop missing an arm. Once they get back in the past, the real fun comes in watching Lou's excitement at trying to witness the exact moment the arm is severed. The fact that everyone takes for granted that his accident must have happened on the exact day the guys arrive at in the past, is a great example of how illogical the writing is. But if you can look past this, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is at least an entertaining couple of hours. If you grew up in the '80s it is at best a great trip through memory lane.
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"How to Train Your Dragon" is the first great family film of the year.
With great 3D animation and effects, lovable characters, fun fast paced action, and a story and dialogue that you will enjoy just as much as your kids, (provided they are old enough to handle a pg-13 animated film), "How to Train Your Dragon: IMAX 3D" is a movie that everyone in your family will enjoy.
Hiccup, a young Viking, lives in a village that is constantly at war with dragons. His father is the head of the village and the chief dragon killer. Everything in the village revolves around killing dragons, and Hiccup just doesn't live up to the expectations of the village...or his father. Small scrawny, and especially clumsy, he couldn't be a bigger disappointment if he tried. There is nothing Hiccup wants more than to be a big brave dragon slayer. Better with his brains than his brawn, Hiccup devises a mechanical weapon to trap and kill the most dangerous dragon of all. Once he finds himself face to face with the helpless dragon, Hiccup isn't sure he can go through with it, and a relationship develops between the two that will change the village forever.
You probably already noticed that the word "kill" comes up a lot in this review. Be prepared that it comes up a lot in this movie as well. Any kid that understands the concept of hunting, as well as can handle a movie where someone wears part of a viking bra as a hat and some slight adult language, is probably fine in this movie. But if you have small children in your house, especially any that are prone to nightmares, you might want to check this out alone before bringing the kids.
The dragons themselves all start out fairly viscous, but some of them become equally lovable as well. The best parts of the movie all feature the central dragon, nicknamed "Toothless" by Hiccup, who is as much like a family dog or cat as he is a fierce force of nature. One of the most fun parts about Toothless is how subtly familiar he looks and acts to a character from another movie. "How to Train Your Dragon" is directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders who previously directed "Lilo and Stitch", and there is definitely more than a passing similarity between Stitch and Toothless in both their behavior and their design.
The design of the dragons is amazing. The different breeds range not just in size and shape, but in temperament too. The 3D style animation design is all top notch, but when combined with actual IMAX 3D projection technology, the dragons and the Vikings all really come to life on the screen. There were a few parts where the Vikings mouth movement seemed slightly off from their words, but aside from that, the look of the movie was fantastic.
Speaking of the words of the Vikings, Dreamworks has assembled an all-star comedic cast to fill out the roles of the Vikings. Gerard Butler is immediately recognizable as Hiccups father Stoick, but some of the other cast take a minute or two to recognize. Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse reunite for the first time since "Suberbad" as Snotlout and Fishlegs, two of the kids in a Dragon Slaying course. America Ferrara (Ugly Betty) joins them as Astrid, the most desired girl in the village, and Craig Ferguson is the missing-limbed blacksmith and mentor to Hiccup. Jay Baruchel, voices the lead character Hiccup. Baruchel has done a number of comedic projects lately, including the recently released "She's Out of My League", but he really earned his stripes as Danger, the mentally-challenged wannabe-boxer from "Million Dollar Baby".
"How to Train Your Dragon" is not a perfect animated movie. It is definitely a formula driven plot, and if you swapped out the settings and characters, it's a story you have heard many times before. The themes of the movie are about learning to understand things we are afraid of rather than jumping to animosity, as well as parents really taking the time to understand and trust their children. That said, it is still one of the better tellings of this story, and should be on everyone's list of movies to see this year. Do yourself a favor and pay the extra money to see it in 3D; you will be glad you did.
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"Repo Men" would be a better film if it picked one genre and fully committed to it.
You have been waiting for an organ transplant that you may never get. Time is running out, but there is another option. You can buy a new mechanical organ from "The Union". So what if it costs $650,000.00? How do you put a price on longer life? After all, you owe it your family. You owe it to yourself... except there is a catch. If you default on your payments for more than 90 days, the "Repo Men" will hunt you down, cut you open, and take the organ back. This is the premise of "Repo Men". A somewhat schizophrenic movie that can't quite decide if it's a mindless blood and guts action film, a thematic look at corporate ethics and greed, or a Hitchcock style psychological "twist" movie. Like anything pulled in too many directions at once, "Repo Men" never gets the chance to fully develop any of these aspects to their potential, and the overall film suffers as a result.
Set many years in the future and
based on a novel by Eric Garcia (who also wrote "Matchstick Men"), "Repo Men" stars Jude Law and Forest Whitaker as a near sociopathic team paid to repossess the mechanical organs of people who default on their bill. They are part of The Union, a company using high pressure sales to commit people to purchasing organs at prices they can't possibly afford, and then essentially slaughtering them to get the organs back when they default. Whitaker is perfectly cast as Jake. A previous grade-school bully that loves the thrill of the hunt, Jake believes that his enforcement of the rules is an essential part of holding society together. Jake's partner Remy (Jude Law) is equally happy with what he does for a living, but wrestles with a tough internal struggle at home due to the fact that his wife (Carice van Houten of "Valkyrie") is threatening to leave him unless he gives up his murderous career and transfers to sales. While out on one last job, Remy is injured to the point where he can no longer be just an employee of The Union, he must also become a client. With one of the Union's organs inside himself, Remy no longer sees things as clearly as he once did.
Everything is in place for what could be a great character driven story about one man's attempt to reconcile who he has been and the effect it has had on others. Without ever getting preachy there is plenty of social commentary here, as well as obvious echoes of the recent mortgage and foreclosure scandals. Liev Schreiber is spot-on as the self-centered, money-driven branch chief who is solely focused on the next sale or profit and cares little to nothing for his customers or employees. Law fully embodies both the pre- and post-surgery aspects of his character and completely sells the internal transitions of his character's arc. However, this movie isn't entirely a drama. The thing "Repo Men" succeeds best at is the action.
Like the recent "Book of Eli", the action in "Repo Men" is very well choreographed and pulls no punches. Bloody, violent, and explosive, "Repo Men" often puts the story on hold for action scenes - more stylized than realistic - that will definitely please the testosterone camp. Where "Repo Men" falls apart is in the balance and transition between drama and action movie. Falling back too much on formula plot devices and obvious indicators of what will happen next, "Repo Men" never really brings the level of depth that a movie like "Michael Clayton" does when exploring humanity, greed, and manipulation of others. At the same time, the pacing between action scenes is inconsistent and too slow to ever let the movie become a full on rip-roaring mindless action flick. Social commentary and drama, mixed with intense action is not an impossible combination. Movies like "The Matrix" and "The Borne Identity" got the balance just right. Unfortunately "Repo Men" feels less like a cohesive whole, and more like someone took the best action scenes from "Blade" or "The Transporter" and tried to edit them into a futuristic drama like "Children of Men".
One thing "Repo Men" absolutely gets right is the visual aspect and atmosphere of the film. A nice break from all the apocalyptic movies we have seen in the last few months, "Repo Men" takes place in a future that is not so different from our own. Technology has advanced in realistic ways, and the world has moved on in a way that feels very possible. The imagery in this film is fantastic. Especially well done are a clean room scene and another scene where the life of one of the characters flashes before their eyes. The special effects are top-notch as well. In any movie, the best effects are the ones that make you completely forget that you are seeing them, and the effects team on this film has achieved just that. Because of this, even with all the problems mentioned earlier, this would still have been an adequate "B" action flick if it didn't ruin things by trying to throw in one more monkey wrench of a twist.
I won't ruin the "twist" for you, although I think a good chunk of the audience will probably see it coming. Twist movies are often the best that cinema has to offer, but if a film is going to pull the rug out from under the audience at the end, it needs to enhance the story. Both "The Sixth Sense", and "Shutter Island" make excellent use of the twist ending in a way that makes you instantly want to go back and re-watch the film with a new perspective. "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest" has a twist ending that doesn't change your perception of what came before, but ultimately is the final nail driving home a point the movie wanted to make from the beginning. The twist ending in "Repo Men" neither adds additional layers to the earlier parts of the story nor does it further illustrate a point. Rather, it is merely in place for the sake of shocking the audience and ends up leaving you feeling cheated.
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