Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wrath of the Titans

The Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to the Clash of the Titans sequel, and all the mainstays are back: Sam Worthington portrays Perseus, Liam Neeson is his father, Zeus, and Ralph Fiennes is Hades. The difference here, however, is that the writing is slightly better, and Sam Worthington has figured out how to handle this period piece with a bit of good acting balanced with a little humor.
When it turns out that his father, Zeus, is dying -- all the gods are dying because people stopped believing in them -- Perseus goes to the Underworld to rescue his father from Zeus' brother Hades and God of War Ares.
The first 15 minutes sets up the fact that Perseus' wife has died, Perseus is sad because of that, but that Perseus loves his son and will do anything to protect him. A few minutes later, he's in a do-or-die struggle against a two-headed, well, thing. It's quite a spectacular battle and a great way to begin an action film.
Perseus aka Worthington looks a little battleworn here, quite a proper look for someone who's been through so much. He insists on being a simple fisherman even though it's obvious he was born for something greater. When Zeus is captured, and it's beginning to look like mankind itself is in danger of perishing once the Titans are released, Perseus starts living up to the hype.
The accents are a bit confusing here, and rather humorous. You hear Australian (something Perseus didn't show us last time), Irish, Cockney, and a few other European accents thrown in.
I found that, in many cases, the casting was uninspired, especially where Ares (actor Edgar Ramirez) was concerned. It's too bad they couldn't have used the late but great Kevin Smith; his Ares on Xena was something to be reckoned with. This guy just looks like a guy off the Greek streets. Rosamund Pike, however, as Andromeda, really captures the camera. She has a certain gravitas as well about her, and was quite watchable.
The plot meanders. There are too many actors for the story. The action doesn't always suit the story. But this Titan story is better than the first remake, and the actors seem to have found their ground. Thumb's up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

A friend of mine asked me recently if she could see The Dark Knight Rises without having seen the other two films starring Christian Bale. Would she understand what was going on? Well, to be honest, no. She wouldn't have a clue as to what's going on.
When we last left Batman, he agreed with Commissioner Gordon that Harvey Dent would be left as a hero instead of the disfigured evil villain he was, and that Batman would take the blame for all the destruction Two-Face left in his wake.
Eight years later, we find that Bruce Wayne is a shadow of the man we knew. Not only that, but Wayne Enterprises is pretty much broke. But a new villain has come to town, and Batman had better figure things out or Gotham is lost.
I normally don't write reviews about big movies because I figure they've been reviewed to death. But this one is so good that there are so many things that spring out at the viewer and cry for attention.
First of all, let me say this film is a worthy successor to the last. It's wonderfully imagined and filmed. Bale may not be your favorite Batman, but he's certainly the most distressed you've ever seen. We see and feel his pain, and the modern Batman, this 21st century non-Superhero, is plagued with self-doubt and has the whole distrust of his city on his back.
Several new characters enter the fray. And they're all interesting.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Blake, a policeman who rises to detective, and he represents the moral core of the film. He's also Everyman here, you and me, should we find ourselves in such a situation (provided we're good people, brave, with a sense of right and wrong).
Bane is a new type of villain, one who has his own moral sense and loyalties, many of them hidden to us. But his physicality is clearly frightening. Tom Hardy (Bane) just keeps upping his profile, he's that good.
Marion Cotillard keeps finding nice, sometimes smallish roles in which she can let her qualities shine. She's Wayne's new girlfriend, a woman in the energy industry who seems to understand what the city (and Bruce) needs.
Perhaps the most startling role of all is Selina, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, who looks like Catwoman, but nobody ever calls her that. While most all Batman villains are certifiably insane (Dent, the Joker, etc.), Selina is not insane. She's a thief. But she takes it to a whole 'nother level.
And while we've seen Commissioner Gordon before (Gary Oldman), he's quite different in this film. He takes a different path.
We're not dealing with redemption here. We're dealing with a phoenix. Can he rise again to save the city and people he loves? The various pieces here -- and there are many -- come together in an explosive denouement. It's a long film. Be sure to budget your time. Your interest will definitely be taken care of.
Thumb's up.

Underworld: Awakening

I have seen three out of four movies from the Underworld series. I think I usually see one as soon as I forget the pain that the previous one brought.
But this one brought back Kate Beckinsale. Kate has a good career -- she's lately the best thing in Total Recall -- and not just in the sci fi genre, but she apparently thought it would be a good idea to go back to her roots, just one more time. I wonder if she read the script before signing on.
There's not much there there. The first 20 minutes is an action scene with no dialogue, showing Kate at what the franchise does best: action. Lots of fight scenes. Fortunately, there are no lycans in these scenes, just Selene (Kate) and a bunch of humans. Lycans, some four movies later, are not represented well by special effects. Vampires are a lot easier to do, but four-legged, hairy beasts that crawl fast are another thing going. And in Awakening, one gets the idea that the budget was spent on Kate, not on fx.
The plot is murky, but suffice to say that humans find out that there are vampires and werewolves out there, and they're out to eradicate both species. There's also a girl, someone who is very important to Selene, and that turns out to be a good thing. When we first meet Selene in Awakening, she's an automaton, and that's not terribly dramatic. It's only when the young girl is introduced that we get a sense of Selene's emotion, her raison-d'etre. Beckinsale can act, we can't deny that. But acting her way out of this unwieldy paper bag is something we wouldn't wish on her.
Skip this whole franchise. It's only slightly better than the Resident Evil series; their leading women certainly deserve better.
Thumb's down.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Total Recall

I loved the 1990 Total Recall. Loved it. One of the best sci fi movies ever made, except that the main actor was miscast. Imagine my delight when I found out that Colin Farrell would be in the remake.
And he does a fine job. Imagine a good actor in the role. Arnold had, maybe, one whole look -- he just couldn't look shocked at all -- but Farrell does a good job of that. And this version sticks closer to the original short story.
But, you know the problems with short stories. They set everything up, but then they're outta there. So screenwriters adapting projects like that have to improvise. As far as I know, having read the original many years ago, it looks like this version sticks pretty much to the story, and therein lies the problem: it's pretty thin.
It's run, run, run for Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), who thinks he's just a worker in the very dirty, very blue-collar Colony. Colony workers take The Fall, a big subway system, to get to the other side of the Earth in the only other continent to survive: Great Britain. The sets are just tremendous, and the Colony looks like the acid-rain endowed Los Angeles of Blade Runner.
I was glad to see that a lot of cute little things the original Total Recall depended upon were not in this version. But the new version does give a nod several times to dialogue, perhaps a moment when the plot moved, but then completely turns it on its edge. We do get to see the three-breasted woman, because apparently that's what people talk about at the water cooler when someone mentions Schwarzenegger's movie.
It's a well-imagined action movie, but there's no real substance to it. The fact that Kate Beckinsale steals the show tells you a lot. I don't think it's giving away too much to say that Quaid's wife is an actor playing a role, and more than that, she's a real bitch. The scenes where she's trying to kill Quaid are just terrific, and almost funny, as Beckinsale plays it with such zest.
There is a certain political dynamic set up, and that was very interesting. And the art direction is unsurpassed. We see what this world, at least the Colony, really looks and feels like.
Jessica Biel is the "good" girl here, a woman from the Resistance, and, as such, she has very little to do but join in Quaid's running away party. She's actually boring. There was a little part of me saying, you gave up WHO to date WHAT?
There are a few twists and turns, which, as a student of the old film I really appreciated, but it's just not as much fun, it's not as intricate or interesting as the 1990 Total Recall. If you're a sci fi fan, definitely see it, but if you like well-made movies that have the ability to reach you emotionally, skip this one.
Thumb's down.