A NIGHTMARE ON EL… zzz… zzz… zzz…

29 04 2010

Why pretend to be something I’m not?

The truth is, I’ve never seen the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Nor have I seen any of its many sequels. I also haven’t seen the original FRIDAY THE 13TH or its sequels, or the two series’ cross-pollination, FREDDY VS. JASON. I am almost 100% unversed in “slasher” cinema – and not because I’m particularly squeamish. (I once delivered triplets in an abattoir. No biggie.) Rather, by the time I was of age to be admitted to them, slasher movies had already been around long enough to enter the realm of self-parody. The creepy synthesizers and post-coital butchering that marked the genre were already Simpsons fodder, devoid of transgressive value in their own right.

In anticipation of the new remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, I considered doing my homework, really I did. Then I thought, a movie should be judged for what it is, especially one meant to deliver a gut-level thrill. Either a horror film is scary, or it’s simply not. So it was with a clear mind that I entered the new NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET… And, it was with a clear mind that I left A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, inasmuch as it ended a half hour ago, and I can barely remember a thing that happened in it. Maybe that’s the intended effect of these films: they’re cinematic fast food. Still, for my very first slasher flick, this NIGHTMARE failed to deliver even one nice jolt. I can only imagine how dull it will be for someone better acquainted with the sub-genre… Then again, if you’ve seen thirty-nine NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET’s and still yearn to see another one, you and I have very little in common.

She totally dies.

The story of this film, and the other thirty-nine (OK, eight) NIGHTMARE films, goes something like this: teenagers start having nightmares that kill them in their sleep, teenagers realize they’re all having the same nightmare and it’s caused by the ghost of a burn-victim-out-for-revenge named Freddy Krueger, teenagers try to stay awake but fail, and are forced to fight Freddy in their dreams, and at least one teenager walks away… forrr nowww. So, what sets this new NIGHTMARE apart? Why it’s Freddy himself. In a departure from the 1984 film, Freddy’s no longer just a child murderer; his original sin, what led to his unceremonious flambé-ing, is actually child molestation. This apparently was a story point of the first NIGHTMARE, one that was abandoned by studio executives in the wake of the sensational McMartin trial.

Finally, a realisitic depiction of highschool!

Also different about Freddy in this new film is that for the first time in the franchise, he’s not played by Robert Englund, but by Jackie Earle Haley… Jackie’s well-hidden here under tons of makeup, but he’s not hidden enough to avoid notice by Steven Spielblog. Jackie, a former child star, was far below the radar until his Oscar-nominated performance in Todd Field’s LITTLE CHILDREN, where he played Ronnie McGorvey… another child molester. Does the man have no fear of typecasting? Between McGorvey and Krueger, Jackie’s characters have destroyed almost as many children’s lives as the Catholic church. Almost.

Jackie doesn’t do much to elevate the modern monster, his Freddy is intense, and, uh… intense, but he might as well be Olivier behind latex compared to the rest of the cast. Sure, part of the fun of slasher films is watching young actors pay the price for their dreams of Hollywood stardom, but not one of these kids’ on-screens mutilations struck me as terrifying in the least. The device is a simple one: the teenaged characters, in their small town reality, close their eyes if only for an instant – and as soon as they do, the lighting on their face changes. The camera pulls out, and we realize, oh shit, they’re in a dream, yo!

Freddy Krueger (pictured,) attempting to re-ignite the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise...

The problem is, as soon as those eyelids flutter, it’s obvious Freddy Krueger’s en route, if he’s not standing behind our teen heroes already. The audience is nothing if not ready for him, so the thrills, if the film scores any off you, are cheap: Freddy shows up one beat after you expect him to, or maybe one beat before. I’m no aficionado. But if spending ninety minutes knowing more or less exactly what’s about to happen is your idea of fun, again, we have very little in common.

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is produced by Michael Bay, whose hobby it is to print money from re-imagining yutzy films for a whole new generation of yutzes, and it’s directed by Sam Bayer, a brilliant music video maker who, it turns out, doesn’t seem to know ass from ear when it comes to putting together a full-length feature.

Why pretend to be something you’re not, Sam?


Pacific 14 Theaters at the Grove, Los Angeles

Sunday April 25, 4:00pm showing


IRON MAN 2: The Stark Reality

27 04 2010

Summer blockbuster season always brings with it at least one big disappointment. This year’s comes right up front – and what a disappointment it is. IRON MAN 2 is a classic sequel in the worst sense: we’ve got more villains, more heroes, more money in the budget, and none of it amounts to an experience that comes even close to that of its predecessor, which stood out in 2008 as smart, effervescent counter-programming in the summer dominated by the dour DARK KNIGHT.

Mickey Rourke, seen here squandering residual goodwill from THE WRESTLER

IRON MAN 2 picks up six months after the end of the first film, establishing its villain – or, one of them:  Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke,) a Russian ex-con and former nuclear engineer, has a score to settle. His and Tony’s fathers developed the original ‘arc reactor’ together, and while old man Vanko has since died in impoverished obscurity, (is there any other kind?) Howard Stark made billions before his own passing. So with some ancient blueprints in hand, Vanko  builds his own Iron Man suit, and comes after Tony. Why only get around to this now? Eh, don’t ask.

The problems with IRON MAN 2 are bone deep, but they manifest themselves everywhere on the surface. While the first film focused neatly on Tony and his development from careless cad to honorable hero, this sequel gives him nowhere to go, and at some point in the filming/editing, director Jon Favreau must have realized this; hence, his new movie’s many secondary characters and subplots receive a disproportionate share of screen time here. Tony is all but discarded as a dynamic character – and it becomes very clear very early that without the original’s central arc (and I ain’t talking arc reactor, hiyo,) there’s really not much novel about this franchise. The same can be said about BATMAN BEGINS when compared to THE DARK KNIGHT – with Batman playing boring backup to his rogue’s gallery in the sequel.

"I took the part for the free wig!"

With Tony going nowhere, Favreau whiles away two hours with Vanko, and his relationship with Tony’s competitor, the unscrupulous businessman Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell, who was once up for the role of Stark himself, essentially becomes the Tony Stark of IRON MAN 2; he gets the funniest lines of the film, and is the best part of the film – though he’s not exactly up against stiff competition. Rourke, as Vanko, is uninteresting from moment one, and brings not one whiff of the WRESTLER’s soul to the part. (But then, it’s not much of a part.) The other performers don’t fare much better: Don Cheadle, replacing Terence Howard as Stark’s pal Lt. Col James “Rhodey” Rhodes, is given more to do in the role than Howard was – but that doesn’t mean he puts anything like a personal stamp on it. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, in spite of a promotion to CEO of Stark Enterprises, remains more-or-less a damsel in distress for use in the climax. And Scarlett Johansson… wait, was Scarlett Johansson in this movie? Hold on, let me check IMDB.

Holy shit, she was. Wow, I’d completely blocked that out.

As for Robert Downey Jr., well, you’ve got to love him, but this sequel sure don’t make it easy. The rambling free-association that became his trademark in part one here plays as aimless and grating. Take an early omen – ahem – scene in which Tony appears before a Senate sub-committee. It just goes on and on… until it begins to feel like what it surely is – 100% improvisation. By its end, the committee chair Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) and Tony are just hurling four-letter words at one another… And in the film’s interminable second act, whole scenes go by without purpose or payoff, just prattling. I haven’t seen this much cross-talking in a movie since Robert Altman died; is this IRON MAN 2? Or Dogme 95?

"OK in this scene, just say whatever the fuck pops into your head. That's what post-production's for, right?"

The sole stand-out sequence of the film takes place in Monaco, with Tony forced to fend off Vanko in the middle of a Grand Prix race. It’s hot stuff, that is, until you start parsing its logistical details. I’ll skip the breakdown here, because chances are, you’ll be seeing IRON MAN 2 anyway. Suffice it to say, basic motive questions like ‘who knows what when, and how would they know to do what they do?’ are better left unasked. It’s nifty to look at, but it requires a brain vacation to truly enjoy; in other words, standard summer movie fare.

Sadly, Monaco’s already in the rearview early in the film, and what follows is formless and poorly-paced (not to mention full of gaffes; the first meeting of Vanko and Hammer is a scene in which wine glasses disappear and re-appear several times over, and Rockwell’s uneven fake tan gets the big laugh.) Most galling, though, is that in the midst of all the filler, the producers find time to set up future Marvel movie spin-offs, on the assumption that anyone seeing IRON MAN 2 will be left wanting more. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his cameo role from part one as Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and proposes that Tony Stark join THE AVENGERS – but only as a consultant.

Take that any way you like, but it struck me as a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the future of Marvel movies from Robert Downey, Jr. After this bust, I can’t say I blame him.

Yeah, I'm bummed out too, Iron Man.


AMC Century City Theaters, Los Angeles

Thursday April 22, 7:30pm showing

KICK-ASS: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Batman

19 04 2010

What you’ll talk about after seeing KICK-ASS can be summed up like so: Hit Girl. In the new ensemble superhero film, Chloe Moretz plays Mindy Macready a.k.a. Hit Girl, an eleven year-old trained in the deadly arts by her father Damon (Nicolas Cage.) We meet Mindy at the end of dad’s sights. He’s firing at her with a handgun, he says, to prepare her for the real thing – and he promises to take her for ice cream after.

"Got something to say, Family Research Council? Say it to my face."

Some will say the sight of a child committing murder is disturbing. And that would only be a testament to, you know, their decency. Me, I guess I’m indecent, or indecent enough not to be alarmed by the sight of Hit Girl in action. What I didn’t appreciate was that the character of Mindy/Hit Girl gets less interesting, and her sadist shtick less enjoyable as it grows clear that KICK-ASS has no purpose for her except as an itsy-bitsy Batman. Not only is she at no point forced to question or doubt her orthodox superhero upbringing, but the fact that Mindy’s a child is effectively ignored by nearly every character she comes into contact with. Subsequently, there’s not a moment in this movie in which this eleven year-old seems eleven years old in any way.

That’s fair, I guess; director Matthew Vaughn doesn’t treat Mindy as an actual kid so he won’t be mistaken for playing a child-avenger straight. Unfortunately for Vaughn, his film’s main character isn’t Hit Girl, it’s the would-be teen hero called Kick-Ass, who doesn’t seem to exist in the same universe as Hit Girl. The contrast between its two protagonists begs some basic questions of, and reveals some basic problems with KICK-ASS:

DISCLAIMER: No asses were kicked during the making of KICK-ASS.

For starters, where, exactly, are we? Opening narration tells us that superheroes are, and always have been, limited to comic books. We’re in the real world, or at least it’s real enough that only an idiot (or teenager) would ever aspire to become a superhero. Enter Dave Lizewski, teenage idiot. Buying a wetsuit on the internet and taking to the streets as a costumed vigilante, Dave resembles a true kid: his ambitions exceed his abilities. In an early scene, he’s savagely beaten in the line of hero duty, and though he survives, Dave never hardens into any kind of killing machine, never takes his revenge… The revenge plot, naturally, is saved for the little girl, and perhaps necessarily, it’s totally absurd. But absurdity requires balance in any story featuring sympathetic protagonists, and KICK-ASS doesn’t get it right. Hit Girl and Kick-Ass seem to be playing by mutually exclusive sets of laws – both moral and physical. She back-flips off of one goon while sniping another, racking up a body count to rival The Bride herself. He, by contrast, nobly flails and… shows stamina. Where exactly are we?

As young Mr. Lizewski/Ass, newcomer Aaron Johnson suffers from persistent adolescent croaking. Though Lizewski is a sort of self-aware comic book-reading Peter Parker, he pales when compared to Tobey Maguire as the man-boy himself, in part because Johnson plays it too close to Maguire. He’s earnest and wide-eyed, when more cynicism and bite could have drawn attention away from his character’s basic lack of change and sacrifice. (Peter Parker’s got him beat by a long shot there…) Villain duties fall to Mark Strong, who makes his Lumber King Frank D’Amico menacing without making him memorable. Perhaps you saw Mr. Strong as the villain in last summer’s SHERLOCK HOLMES, and wondered ‘hey, who’s that guy?’ Well, with Mr. Strong playing the heavy not only here, but also in the upcoming ROBIN HOOD and GREEN LANTERN, be prepared to continue wondering ‘hey, who’s that guy?’

Christopher Mintz-Plasse (right,) no mere McLovin'

1980’s up-and-comer Elizabeth McGovern appears as Dave Lizewski’s mother, and dies on-screen without a single line. Add that to her turn as Perseus’ mother in CLASH OF THE TITANS, and that’s two movies this month in which she’s played a mom killed off in the first five minutes… As ex-cop turned Big Daddy, Nic Cage has good fun as usual, but Christopher Mintz-Plasse proves the biggest surprise of the film. He’s goofy and great as Chris D’Amico, heir to the Lumber Kingdom. He is also the only character in the film who exhibits any emotional transformation. A scene in which he and Kick-Ass cruise Times Square singing along to Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ is the film’s best, because it embraces the promise of what KICK-ASS is about at its core: socially-awkward kids, having fun in costume.

Hey, fun’s fun, and so’s this movie, but considering the glut of superhero cinema out there and soon-to-be out there, one would hope KICK-ASS, with its ‘R’ rating and counter-cultural mandate, might have the nerve to satirize. But for all the underage swearing, KICK-ASS (ha, “ass,”) is never as subversive as it ought to be. Sure, it teases subversion of the superhero as in that early beat-down scene, but in no time, the film resorts to action cliché, culminating in (er, SPOILERS) two back-to-back sequences in which Hit Girl mows down rooms of armed henchmen, like Neo in the good part of the good MATRIX. So what if she’s in pigtails? Been there, done that.

The finale finds Hit Girl and Kick-Ass duking it out with baddies in separate suites, and separate realities. And though Hit Girl does come close to being squashed, (a scene some will probably find repulsive, but who cares,) her survival’s not in doubt, because this film has long since abandoned any pretension to boldness. In the end, Hit Girl is alive and game for more ultra-violence – and another adventure waits in the wings. That’s true to comic books, perhaps, but in its adherence to franchise-friendly convention, KICK-ASS doesn’t deliver on its potential to stand out from the comic book movie crowd.


Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Saturday April 17, 8:30pm screening

HARRY BROWN: Eleanor Rigby, With a Revolver

13 04 2010

The new  British crime thriller HARRY BROWN opens with some disturbing camcorder footage. A young man is initiated into an urban gang with a toke from a crack pipe and a vow on a handgun, and soon, he’s senselessly murdering a mother as she pushes her baby’s stroller. This is an attention-grabbing minute, but it’s never returned to – not as a plot point, at least. Rather, these pre-credits atrocities act as short-hand justification for the violence we’re about to see revisited on the gang. Immediately, we are meant to understand, and, more importantly, despise these young men.

"This here's the Geezer nine-millimeter, the handgun made especially for the elderly."

And so, for a while at least, we do. Sir Michael Caine takes us through several days in the life of his titular protagonist Harry Brown, a pensioner living in the Elephant and Castle housing developments of London. Through powerfully stark visual storytelling, we watch Harry’s life unravel: His long-suffering wife dies. He witnesses a brutal carjacking through his kitchen window, and does nothing. When his only friend Len (David Bradley) tells Harry he’s living in fear of the gang that’s taken over their neighborhood, Harry tells him to call the police… But that night, Len winds up the gang’s next victim. That’s bad news for Harry, it’s bad news for the gang, but more than that, it’s bad news for the film.

The best material of HARRY BROWN comes in its early scenes, as Caine, superb as always, establishes his protagonist’s subdued suffering with nuance, and first time feature director Daniel Barber is wise enough to linger on him. But as soon as HARRY BROWN becomes a proper revenge tale, Harry Brown loses all his nuance, and what begins promisingly as a character study of a desperate man turns into a disappointingly conventional death smorgasbord.

Yes, Harry, a former Marine, has a few sadistic tricks up his sleeve, and turns stone cold quicker than you can say ‘Law Abiding Citizen a Film By F. Gary Gray.’ While HARRY’s second portion (said smorgasbord) has some entertaining moments, mostly stemming from the humor of an old asthmatic matter-of-factly off’ing strung-out lowlifes, there’s a nagging facility to the proceedings. Though it’s set up and paid off as a modern Western, when compared to a film as complex and ruminative as the modern Western UNFORGIVEN, HARRY looks simply brutal. Let’s not mince words: Harry Brown kills kids. Bad kids, but kids; a whole bunch of them. (Incongruously, in another scene, he kills grown men too, only because he wants to save the life of a kid. A junkie kid, but a kid.) Harry’s a slum savior, yet one with no mercy for gang youth, who, it’s suggested in the story of the film (not to mention indicated by the facts of objective reality,) have turned to thug life to escape hardship, abuse, and neglect. But, forget all that. Didn’t you see that camcorder footage?

Alfred, going all Batman on your ass

HARRY BROWN’s most glaring fault, however, isn’t its uncomplicated embrace of vigilantism, but its boring and perfunctory police subplot, which finds poor Emily Mortimer playing Detective Inspector Frampton, who’s always one step behind dirty Harry… Almost all the patter between her and her partner Sergeant Hickock (Charlie Creed Miles) is stilted and pointless; not only does their detective work lead, really, to any valuable discovery, but neither cops are likable, or even distinct characters, which makes their inevitable jeopardy in the film’s finale a yawn. As a riot breaks out in the projects (for reasons un-established and un-resolved,) the focus on Harry Brown is all but lost in HARRY BROWN, a big mistake on the part of Barber, who should know well enough that Michael Bloody Caine is by far his film’s biggest asset.

By the time Harry re-enters the action, the film has all but sputtered into a logic-devoid muddle. There’s a Western-style showdown, but for a film as apparently grave as this, the sequence doesn’t earn the basic suspension of disbelief it requires. (Not so much the OK Corral as the ‘Meh’ Corral.) And in the midst of the shootout climax, finally, the question of almost every revenge drama is asked: ‘When will it end?’ When will the cycle of violence reach its conclusion? But then, almost as soon as the question’s raised, it’s conveniently answered – with villains of both younger and older generations, the slum puppeteers and their teenage puppets, bloodily and, it seems, deservedly defeated.

Unlike most serious revenge pictures, which at least suggest that the child will repay the murder of their elder, if not today then in the fullness of things, HARRY BROWN makes the point that if you’re gonna kill the lion, just make sure you take care of that cub too. And – BLAM! – there’s your happy ending.


Wilshire Screening Room, Beverly Hills

Monday April 12, 7:30pm screening

Foreign Films for Xenophobes

12 04 2010

We at Steven Spielblog – and by we, we mean I – try not to see many Foreignese films. If those foreign filmmakers were so good, they’d have the talent to have been born here in the U.S.A., I always say. Hell, if that Pedro Almodovar had the chops those pinkos at the Jew Yorker say he does, his name would be Pete Adamson, and he’d be hard at work on a Marvel superhero franchise to call his own. (ALL ABOUT MY MUTANT?) But, there’s a place for everything, I s’pose, even foreign films. And at the Spielblog, that’s why we’ve got our ‘Furrin Film Corral,’ where we put a fence around movies from other countries, and poke at them with a pointy stick.

The first detainee in this week’s corral is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Sweden’s answer to Brett Ratner’s RUSH HOUR series – except instead of a fast-talking LA cop teaming up with a kung-fu’ey Hong Kong detective, it’s up to a badass bisexual hacker and a disgraced left wing journalist to join forces and get to the bottom of a mystery, the details of which I’ll not divulge – because I am both kind, and lazy.

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in the upcoming American remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Word has it that director David Fincher’s already planning a 100% American remake of DRAGON TATTOO , and it’s not hard to see why; this is a work of intelligence, brutality, and style, and Fincher could get his dark groove on in the reworking of it, mining the killer vein he knows well for a film just as entertaining as this; but it’s unlikely he’ll produce a better film, if only because there’s such genre perfection on display here. The look of DRAGON TATTOO is atmospheric but understated, underscoring revelations of banal evil. The plot’s lean and unpredictable, leading to a climax that’s action-packed without being far-fetched (a problem in the finales of many thrillers…) Best of all though, are the characters of the detectives themselves. Director Niels Arden Oplev (furriner) provides just the right amount of background for heroes Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. And what history he does provide resonates with the murder plot they uncover in the present. Here’s an object lesson in how to fashion sympathetic, yet complicated protagonists – neither simple do-gooders nor walking counterpoint caricatures, in the American “two-hander” tradition. After all, what’s the point of engaging in a mystery if you don’t care about the people solving it?

Shheeeeeeiiit! I sounded like a fan of furrin’ films there for a minute, didn’t I? Sorry, folks. What is it about these imports what makes me go all illuminati-pants? Someone, put on a middle-period Stallone movie, quick! Ahhhh, that’s better. You soothe me, COBRA.

Next in the corral, prison epic A PROPHET, from Fraaaaaance. Hey France, you think you can just foux-du-fafa on in here and make a prison movie better than America’s own SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION? Well-! Shit! … You happen to be right, France. This time.

As much as it pains me to admit, Jacques Audiard’s A PROPHET is probably the best movie set in a prison since PAPILLON – a film that sounds French, but is actually American. (Suck it.) A PROPHET is enthralling from the start – and though it is long, I defy you to check your watch. The story follows Malik, a nineteen year-old Arab sentenced to six years in French jail (like American jail, but with baguettes.) As soon as he arrives in prison, Malik’s forced by the head of the Corsican mob to kill a fellow Arab. Malik and the mobster Cesar form a bond built on subjugation and protection; though as Malik begins to pull away and establish himself among his fellow prisoners, Cesar’s hold on his ward becomes tighter and more desperate.

Gerard Butler and Gerard Butler in the upcoming American remake of A PROPHET

What’s so unique about A PROPHET is that unlike most fictions set in the slammer, this one has nothing to do with escape. Rather, it’s about the forging of identity – personal and religious – behind bars. It’s Malik’s violent coming-of-age story, and it’s never less than hypnotic in the telling. The plotting is dense yet clear, thanks in large part to the editing by Juliette Welfling. Even as huge chunks of time are spanned in single cuts, her work propels the story, without ever pulling out to that wide shot of the prison at sunrise, subtitled ‘Two Years Later dot dot dot…

As Malik, Tahar Rahim conveys appropriate fear and naivety in early scenes, then refines that towards the end of his sentence, without hardening beyond recognition or sympathy. His performance is reminiscent of – and worthy of comparison to – Al Pacino in the original GODFATHER. Even as he commits murder, and more murder, Malik is our man. Most amazing of all, is the fact that A PROPHET contains a not-insignificant supernatural element – and, in spite of the skepticism this at first elicited from your Spielblogger, this element works. The power of a film like this is, it’s so vividly and confidently imagined, it can take you anywhere, and you’ll go along for the ride – even if it means meeting a contemplative ghost, and foregoing a big third act jailbreak…

Hey, if you can’t beat American movies at their own game, you might as well try to do something, you know, totally original.

CLASH OF THE TITANS: Remake the Kraken!

1 04 2010

The original CLASH OF THE TITANS was released a year before I was born, and I’d like to think that I’ve aged somewhat better than it has. What may have seemed spectacular then, now seems beyond cheese. Certainly, cheese can have value, but what’s telling about putting CLASH in context is that it was made three years after STAR WARS (A NEW HOPE,) but looks like it came twenty years before it. In spite of it being the work of special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, 1981’s CLASH is a pretty tepid piece of pop. In fact, given how dated it looks now, the only way to know it came after STAR WARS is the fact that it swipes from that film so frequently… You’ve got your Luke in the form of Perseus (Harry Hamlin,) a wide-eyed farm boy who yearns to take his place in the universe. You’ve got your Obi Wan in the form of Burgess Meredith’s Ammon, your magical sword, hell you’ve even got your R2-D2 in Bubo, the friendly/godawful mechanical owl.

A long long time ago in a galaxy far far- OK, it’s Greece

Of course, Perseus is actually the forbear of Luke Skywalker, by about – what is it now – 6,000 years? But culture continually re-casts its classics in the molds of what’s recently popular, hence, CLASH’s resemblance to STAR WARS in ’81… And in 2010, now that the movie gods have seen fit to re-make CLASH OF THE TITANS again, what influences will color it? Louis Leterrier’s new film is Greek myth by way of LORD OF THE RINGS and GOD OF WAR on Playstation, but if there’s one film in whose shadow the new CLASH stands, it’s James Cameron’s AVATAR. That’s not because CLASH tracks a similar storyline really, nor that it shares its hero in Sam Worthington, professional Australian-pretending-not-to-be-Australian. What puts the 2010 CLASH squarely in the post-AVATAR universe is that it’s being released simultaneously in traditional 2D, and in digital 3D, the format Mr. Cameron recently redefined.

I got the chance to see CLASH OF THE TITANS at an advance screening last week. (I know. IMPRESSIVE.) And though 3D glasses were handed out at the door, it was then announced that all we would actually be seeing in 3D was a six minute highlight reel, which itself was only 80% finished. The rest of the film would be shown in boring old 2D. 2D! If I want 2D, I’ll shut one eye and look out a window … CLASH, it turns out, had been shot completely in 2D, and only after the success of AVATAR in January did Warner Brothers executives decide to make it their first experiment in 3D retro-conversion. Other words, nobody planned on a 3D CLASH OF THE TITANS until, like, two weeks ago. Expect more of this funny business, Spielbloggees – albeit not at this breakneck a pace. If a studio can charge $18 for a movie you’d normally pay $13 for, they will do what it takes to score those extra five bucks. That’s sushi money, people.

Fig. 3 - Sushi

So the question you’re going to have to ask, in this newly complicated movie marketplace, is two-fold: is a film worth your time and cash, in either 3D or 2D. And the answer for CLASH goes something like this: “no, probably not,” and “yeah, why not,” in that order.

This CLASH OF THE TITANS, it turns out, is a marked improvement over its original version, at least for someone (me) who has no nostalgia for the original. That it’s almost an hour less than AVATAR is one of the best things about the film; whereas AVATAR was predictable and long, CLASH is predictable, but brief. The plotting is brisk and action-packed, eye-roll dialogue is kept minimal, and, it’s good, stupid fun watching Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes partake in the time-honored tradition of great British actors slumming it for blockbusters. As divine brothers Zeus and Hades, these guys are clearly havin’ a laugh, just as Sir Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith did in ’81 when they screwed around Mount Olympus for a hot shilling.

The Kraken

It almost goes without saying that the special effects are top shelf. They’re plainly the reason this remake exists. More important, though, are the numerous well-chosen design elements throughout the film. The underworld, with River Styx boatman Charon is a standout, as are the mystical Djinn, with their char-wood skin and blue flame eyes. Other choices are less advisable: Fiennes’ Hades has a nifty cape of souls, but a lousy makeup job. (Apparently, the underworld gives you eczema.) The Stygian witches turn out to be a blatant PAN’S LABYRINTH – uh – reference – and for all the build-up to the Kraken, when he’s finally released, he’s more or less Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA. Thankfully, though, the Pegasus chase built around mister monster is a winner. It’s worth 2D money, at least.

Big Ern' McCracken

As for Sam Worthington, his brooding Perseus is my favorite performance of his – which is kind of like saying I enjoy Quaker Oats more than other, different brands of oats… Even after a landmark year, Worthington hasn’t answered the basic question “why exactly are you in literally every single movie now, sir?” Let’s face it: AVATAR was about Pandora, just as CLASH OF THE TITANS is about releasing that ollll’ Kraken, and TERMINATOR SALVATION was about a buttnaked CG Arnold Schwarzenegger stalking around a power plant, or something… Worthington may have been the protagonist of each film, but he wasn’t the star. Perhaps that really does make him the actor of the moment; he’s so unremarkable in three dimensions that he gives the eye nowhere to go but into the scenery.


Mann’s Chinese Six Cinemas, Hollywood

Saturday March 20, 6:30pm showing