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Friday
Apr022010

Clash of the Titans

Something's wrong in Hollywood. It's called 3D. Now, before you naysay my statement, know this. I do not hate 3D. It has a place in film and, perhaps unfortunately, is the next evolutionary step in the future of filmmaking. However, with Avatar still going strong at the box office, Alice in Wonderland still climbing out of the rabbit hole and last week's How to Train Your Dragon enjoying its debut, the last thing we need is another 3D movie, yet here we are with the remake of the 1981 cheese-fest Clash of the Titans. Forget about what those big wig execs up in their ivory watchtowers want you to think. Clash proves that not every movie needs the extra dimension.

What separates this apart from those movies previously mentioned is simple. It was never meant to be in 3D. It was not filmed with that technology, like Avatar, or with the mindset for it to later be converted, as was the case with Alice in Wonderland. No, it was bumped up after the movie studio discovered just how profitable the format could be, considering the extra cost to see one in theaters. Thus, it looks horrid. Some scenes feel unfinished, certain visuals look blurry and at times, the characters seem misshapen with distorted heads and cut off body parts, as seen with the ear in multiple shots. Sometimes, I took my glasses off only to find much of it was barely converted, if at all. I watched whole scenes in crisp clear 2D without the glasses in a supposedly 3D movie. It's a nasty trick by the studio to force you into paying extra money with the notion that you're getting something more. Don't be fooled. You're not.

Regardless of how you're looking at it, you'll most likely wish you weren't at all. Clash of the Titans is an action bombshell, taking the genre and forcefully deflowering it with no regards to style or substance. It uses Greek mythology to prove itself as an epic, but it never does anything to warrant such a title.

Sam Worthington plays Perseus, son of Zeus, played by Liam Neeson. Zeus, a god, mated with a human in an act of revenge, who eventually gave birth to Perseus. Being half-human and half-god, a demi-god if you will, he is thrown into the thick of things when the battle between humans and the gods heats up. You see, the humans have betrayed the gods and Zeus is angry, so he joins with his brother Hades, ruler of the Underworld, played by Ralph Fiennes, to put them in their place. If the people of the city do not sacrifice the beautiful Andromeda, played by Alexa Davalos, a giant Kraken will come and destroy them. Perseus' mission is to figure out how to kill the Kraken and defeat the gods.

Essentially, it's a long winded journey to drably colored locales that all look exactly the same with the hopes of finding the information to take down the giant beast that ends in as boring a fashion as it possibly could. By the time Perseus finally gets to the much talked about Kraken, the creature merely waves his claws around, roars a few times and the movie ends. There's no battle, no showdown and, most importantly, no enjoyment to be had in any of it.

Perseus' journey is never fraught with peril or wonder. It gathers up the extensive history of Greek mythology, but has no fun with it. The PG rated Percy Jackson & the Olympians did more with its source material than this supposed grown-up tale of survival and sacrifice.

And that would be due to the script. This is a very badly written film, with unexplained plot occurrences and dialogue that would be better fit for a fun cornball picture. If you've seen the original film, you know it was a poorly conceived B-movie, yet irresistible in its campiness. This modern update doesn't even reach that status because it takes itself far too seriously.

Going hand in hand are the actors, who all seem half asleep in their performances. Liam Neeson, as established a star as he is, is boring as the god Zeus while Fiennes does little more than channel a less creepy version of Lord Voldemort from his roles in the Harry Potter films. Sam Worthington's banality may be the most egregious, however. He was great in Avatar and Terminator: Salvation despite their mediocrity where he proved himself as an up and coming action star. He was somebody to look out for, but he comes off as a second rate actor from a military commercial here. Sure, he looks strong and menacing, but his goofy way of talking in a loud whisper, not unlike Jack Bauer in 24, is laughable and makes his tough look moot.

Clash of the Titans is a disaster, joining the ranks of big budget travesties like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Land of the Lost. It's one of the worst movies of the year thus far and you should skip it, but if you must see it, take my heed and skip the 3D. Why pay extra when you'll walk out miserable either way?

Clash of the Titans receives 0.5/5

Thursday
Apr012010

The Last Song

If you're like me, a lot of movies have lost their zest to you. After seeing and writing about hundreds of films on this website, I've gotten to the point where the majority of films are so predictable I could tell you what happens in them scene by scene based soley off the trailer. They all follow a formula set by the dozens and dozens of precedents before them. Nicholas Sparks book adaptations are perhaps the easiest to decipher. If you've seen The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe or the recent Dear John, you're familiar with the endings. As I watched his latest, Miley Cyrus helmed feature, The Last Song, I couldn't help but continually ask myself: who's going to die in this one?

Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, a rebellious teen on her way down south to live with her father, Steve, played by Greg Kinnear, for the summer. She's a hardened person, already convicted of shoplifting, and she has a "down with authority" attitude. You can tell because she has a nose stud and wears leather boots. Watch out Lindsay Lohan! You may have some competition.

Ronnie has a little brother named Jonah, played by Bobby Coleman, who is accompanying her on her stay. While he is excited to see his father, a person he has spent little time with since the divorce, she can't wait to go home. She hates her dad because he left her, but while there she meets a strapping young lad named Will Blakelee, played by Liam Hemsworth, who starts to turn her world around. Through him, she becomes happier and starts to reconnect with her father, but with only the summer to spend there, will she be able to find true happiness?

If you take the time to really think about what happens at the end of these movies, you'll realize that all of them, with the exception of The Notebook, end without the relationship lasting. It almost seems like Sparks is a jaded lover, pessimistic from bad experiences brought on by past flings.

Without saying how, The Last Song ends in a decidedly different way, not closing the book on the story for good, but rather implying future events. While it may not reach the height of The Notebook (and is barely recommendable by any standard of quality filmmaking), it's a sweet story with an ending that really works, sans the cheese.

The biggest problem with Sparks' book-to-movie adaptations is that they never know when to quit. Instead of letting the emotion pour through naturally, they shove it in your face and try to force you to feel sadness. This is no deviation. I cared about all of these characters. Their performances were good and their chemistry was excellent. Cyrus and Hemsworth seem like naturals together (as they should since they are dating in actuality) and the father/son relationship between Greg Kinnear and little Bobby Coleman is as precious as can be. When tragedy struck (as was inevitable), I cared. I didn't want the events to play out this way. The movie had done its job. It had me in its grasp, so why so maudlin? Why take the emotion you've just spent the last hour and a half building and crush it under the weight of schlocky sentimentality?

What started as a somewhat uneven, but still solid little tearjerker went the way of Nights in Rodanthe and A Walk to Remember. At the end, when I was supposed to be sad, I was fighting back laughter solely so I wouldn't ruin the experience for any of my movie going patrons who may have been tricked by its overemotional gushing.

As the credits rolled and the lights came back up, however, I still found myself content with giving it my stamp of approval. It's funny, it's sweet, it's meaningful and it goes to show that you must learn to forgive those who have hurt you before the chance passes. It's nothing special, but there's something in The Last Song that keeps its heart beating despite its problems.

The Last Song receives 2.5/5

Friday
Mar262010

How to Train Your Dragon

There's no denying that the king of computer animation is Pixar. That juggernaut has released 10 movies and all have been good. Their track record truly is amazing. DreamWorks, on the other hand, hasn't fared so well. After two solid films in Antz and Shrek, they went downhill quickly, releasing junk like Shark Tale, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie and the two Madagascar pictures. They redeemed themselves a tad with Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs. Aliens, but their newest film, How to Train Your Dragon, may very well be their best. They still have a long way to go before they start nipping at the heels of the folks at Pixar, but this is a step in the right direction.

The film takes place in a village where Vikings rule. For hundreds of years, these Vikings have been at war with the local dragons who come to their land, burn down their houses and steal their livestock. To these people, dragon hunting is the most admirable thing you can do and those who do it earn the most respect. The leader of the warriors goes by the name of Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler), a man who finds shame in his puny son Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) because he has never amounted to anything. Hiccup desperately wants to be accepted and wants to kill a dragon to prove himself, but his weak stature doesn't allow him to. One day, however, he lands a hit on the most dangerous dragon of them all, a Night Fury, but can't bring himself to kill it. Instead, he lets it loose, but its tail is severely damaged and it loses the ability of flight. Hiccup bonds with the dragon, whom he names Toothless, and creates an artificial tail to help aid him. He quickly learns that dragons aren't dangerous creatures at all and, with the help of Toothless, tries to convince his village the same.

Story-wise, How to Train Your Dragon is DreamWorks most complete film to date. It hits a range of emotions they previously could have only hoped for. Like a Pixar film, this movie creates a distinct relationship between its two characters, in this case Hiccup and the dragon, and you come to appreciate their bonding. Toothless is like a stray dog who wants to be loved, but is wary of anybody offering it because he simply isn't used to it. He looks at Hiccup as he approaches him, all tied up in the projectile net, desperate and afraid. After Hiccup releases him, he attacks him based on the assumption that Hiccup means harm. It isn't until he spends time with him that he starts to let his guard down. It's truly amazing how much emotion seeps through this creature just by the way he looks at Hiccup. His character development rivals everybody else in the movie and you see him grow throughout.

The bond they create is the crutch of the film. You'll love them as soon as they start to love each other. Despite its colorful nature and appeal to children, its the drama that comes through the best. You'll care about the characters, sympathize with them and fear for their plight. It's the humor that doesn't necessarily work.

Much like most animated features, How to Train Your Dragon tries real hard to produce laughs, but it feels more strained here than in others. I wouldn't say this is a dark film, but it's not exactly happy-go-lucky either and deals with rejection, loneliness and crippling injury, both to humans and animals. However, it doesn't go all the way. Nobody dies in this movie. When the dragons shoot their fire, the humans jump out of the way and it passes right by. Due to what I assume is fear of excluding children, the film is toned down in every area, which includes its forced humor to lighten the tension. None of it works. Had it gone a more adult route and had the chutzpah to show the violence and drama unfold more naturally, this would be a modern day adult animated masterpiece.

It doesn't quite reach that height, but it's a solid tale nevertheless. The animation is beautiful, the close-to-being-overdone 3D works magic and the voice acting is wonderful. Despite a few too many recognizable voices from the likes of Jonah Hill, Butler and Baruchel, who just recently starred in She's Out of My League, they fit their characters well and by the time you reach the high flying, pulse pounding climax, you will have forgotten that there were actual people voicing these characters, though it does take a bit of time to get to that point.

I've always been a person fascinated with flight. Ask me who my favorite superhero is, I'll tell you Superman and I'm astonished when someone in a window seat on an airplane puts the cover down so they can't see out the window. Being up that high and being able to soar through the clouds holds a sense of wonder for me. It's a sight so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps this is why I loved How to Train Your Dragon, because it tells a story not always through dialogue, but through flight showing how their friendship develops while they are in mid-air swooping up and down and around. The beauty of these scenes is reason enough to buy a ticket. It may not be the next Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but it's a pleasurable diversion that promises a more promising future from DreamWorks.

How to Train Your Dragon receives 4/5

Friday
Mar262010

Hot Tub Time Machine

Back in January, I was invited to attend an early screening of a little film called Hot Tub Time Machine. It was a rough cut and it was, well, a little rough. The editing needed to be tighter and a few side story issues needed to be resolved. Now it has been completed and the finished product is, well, still a little rough. It's a shoddily structured, messily interpreted hour and a half trip through an unoriginal screenplay reminiscent of dozens of other time traveling films that simply replaces whatever time traveling device they used with a hot tub. Still, its goofy nature and fun, unabashed ridiculousness are hard to deny.

The story, as irrelevant as it may be, can be summarized in one sentence. After Lou, played by Rob Corddry, tries to kill himself, his friends Adam, Nick and Jacob, played by John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, travel to their old vacation spot, a ski resort in the mountains, where they are transported back to the 80’s via hot tub and must travel in the same footsteps they did all those years ago, lest they disrupt the past and change the future for the worse.

Much like Snakes on a Plane or the more recent Ninja Assassin, Hot Tub Time Machine is a movie most will want to see based on the delightfully absurd title alone. Those people will not be disappointed. Like a good spoof movie, the film never stops with the jokes. It never bothers with heart or meaning or character development. It simply provides a constant string of gags that allow the four actors to play off each other.

Unfortunately, for every hilarious joke, there was one that fell flatter than an anorexic supermodel, including disgusting bodily fluid jokes that even the most juvenile of viewers will find degrading. Blood, urine, vomit, you name it, this movie has it. In the first 20 minutes alone, you get all of the above and then some, bringing to mind a scene where Nick digs out keys from the anus of an animal and throws them at someone. This type of lowbrow humor is to be expected, but that doesn't make it funny.

It's during the more perceptive scenes that Hot Tub Time Machine really shines. It knows what it is—over-the-top, tongue in cheek and very silly—and it takes its 80’s setting and capitalizes on it. Cusack, known for his seminal roles in 80’s films like Say Anything, is used to the fullest and the film puts him in situations that echo movies of that era, even going so far as to duplicate one of the most famous shots from Sixteen Candles, a film which he played a minor role in.

In a way, Hot Tub Time Machine is kind of smart in its stupidity. There is nothing going on behind the camera, but the comedic chemistry of the four actors is good and the witty script prove some thought went into it. It’s ironic, really. The film has brains, but you’ll have to turn yours off to enjoy it.

Hot Tub Time Machine receives 3/5

Friday
Mar192010

The Bounty Hunter

Meet Nicole Hurley (Jennifer Aniston). She's a journalist who is on the beat attempting to uncover the mystery behind a recent man's alleged suicide. Oh, and she's also a felon. Not too long ago, she was arrested for assaulting a police officer and her court date is fast approaching, too fast it seems because she skips bail and finds herself on the lam from the cops. Now meet Milo (Gerard Butler), a bounty hunter who specializes in finding fugitives and taking them to jail. His newest assignment: capture Nicole. At first, he is ecstatic because Nicole is actually his ex-wife and really, who wouldn't want to drag their ex-wife to jail? However, somebody is out to take her life because she is getting too close to the truth behind the suicide and Milo finds himself way over his head. He must protect her and deal with her annoying eccentricities, but he can't help but begin to fall in love with her all over again.

And thus begins the abomination that is The Bounty Hunter. Like Cop Out before it, this film has a poor flow, an uninteresting story, bland enemies and annoying leads. It's funnier than Cop Out though, which is to say there's one good joke. The rest is a mind numbing rom-com that isn't worth the dried up gum underneath the seat you'll be watching it on.

When it comes to any type of movie like this, whether it be a buddy cop film or a romantic comedy, the lead characters must be likable. Spending your two hours with them should be fun. You should find yourself laughing at their jokes, enjoying their zany quirks and caring about them if they are in peril. I wanted, however, to kill these two characters myself. They are both loud, obnoxious and practically begging for us to like them. Their attempts to satisfy the audience come off as desperate and grating. Butler's character is merely throwaway, not in the way a less prominent character would be, but because I couldn't care less about what happened to him and the only interesting thing about Aniston's character is that you could occasionally see through her shirt when the lighting was right.

The saddest part of this debacle is that the premise is ripe for the picking, and I suspect is the sole reason it got greenlit to begin with. A bounty hunter male capturing his ex-wife and taking her to jail has so much potential, yet it would take a revamp of the entire movie--rewrites, reshoots, recasts--to make this thing tolerable.

Butler and Aniston produce no chemistry together because Aniston is only funny when supported by funny people and Butler is not one of them. He's an actor I have much respect for. I loved 300 and he even managed to convince me of his acting prowess in silly films like Law Abiding Citizen and Gamer, but for some reason he seems compelled to take roles in gag-inducing rom-com tripe, not the least of which includes last year's atrocious The Ugly Truth, and he simply isn't very good in any of them.

In a year that has thus far been unexceptional, The Bounty Hunter does little to turn the tide. It's shallow, predictable and it always takes the easy route, going for fast zingers, yet keeping it clean to keep its precious PG-13 rating (despite a trip to a topless strip club where the dancers are all, for some reason, fully covered). This thing has no gravitas, no guts, no redeeming factors and is unworthy of your time.

The Bounty Hunter receives 0.5/5