POSTED ON APRIL 7, 2010:
Big Fish vs. Little Fish
The titans fall a bit short, but there's other fish in the sea
War Games. In Clash of the Titans, Sam Worthington steps from Avatar success into a gladiator-sized role as Perseus.
Hollywood is going to ruin a bad thing, which means I'm not complaining. The post-Avatar push to 3D-ize EVERYTHING as a means of stemming piracy and to milk increasingly exorbitant ticket prices out of movie-goers is going to turn people off when they realize the process of converting a film into 3D isn't the same, and is not nearly as immersive as something that was actually shot in 3D. Besides, it's not as though good 3D makes a bad movie better anyway.
I heard toxic things about how bad the 3D version of Clash of the Titans looked; so seriously, unless a film was shot in 3D to begin with, just go see the 2D version. It might take a bit more research to find out which is which, but you'll save money, you won't have to wear those stupid glasses, and you'll de-monetize bad ideas by greedy, short-sighted studio executives.
You can vote with your dollar, and if you vote sensibly, maybe we won't wind up with a colorized, 3D re-release of Casablanca. (You know they want to. They don't have any better ideas.)
This brings us to the spiffy, CG drenched, updating of 1981's Clash of the Titans. In theory, this should have been a slam dunk. My love for the original is abiding, but I have no illusions about it being a great film. It's one of those flicks I saw a thousand and one times on HBO as a kid, hyped on sugar and geeking out on stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen's cool creatures -- a nostalgic joy, even then, that went back to his work on the Sinbad films, and classics like Jason and the Argonauts.
But it's full of faux-Shakespearian performances from the likes of Laurence Olivier as Zeus, and a down-right hokey turn from pretty boy Harry Hamlin as Perseus. For every giant scorpion or undead skeleton battle, there was a doe-eyed love scene, sugary enough to send One Life to Live fans into a diabetic coma. It's a goofy product of its time, and thus should have made a good candidate for upgrading to contemporary, slam-bang action-fest. So, why do I still like the original better?
Perseus (Sam Worthington) is, as a baby, discovered by a fisherman named Spyros (Pete Postlethwaite) on the high seas in a floating coffin, with the body of his dead mother. She became pregnant with Perseus after a tryst with Zeus (Liam Neeson), and they were both cast into the sea by her jealous husband, Acrisius (Jason Flemyng). Spyros raises Perseus as his own son.
Years later, a grown Perseus is fishing with his family when they see a group of soldiers destroy a statue of Zeus, in a declaration of war against the Gods. Hades (Ralph Fiennes) rises from the Underworld, killing most of the soldiers, and destroying the boat, killing Perseus' whole family. The soldiers are from the great city of Argos, whose King and Queen are engaging in all kinds of blasphemes against the Gods. This displeases the Olympians, who gain their strength from the prayers of humans, and Zeus decides to put the fear of ... well, Zeus in them. So, he allows Hades to wreak havoc on the people of Argos.
Hades crashes the party the King and Queen are holding for the surviving soldiers -- who have brought Perseus back with them -- after the Queen compares the beauty of her daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) to that of Aphrodite. Hades kills the Queen and gives the people an ultimatum. Sacrifice Andromeda to The Kraken at the next eclipse, or Argos will be annihilated for its ruler's insolence.
Hades, who informs Perseus of his divine lineage, disappears and Perseus is thrown in the clink as a spy for the Gods. But he is freed by Io (Gemma Arterton), a nymph who tells Perseus his path to revenge against Hades for his family's death lies in rescuing Andromeda and slaying The Kraken.
I really wanted to like Clash of the Titans, and, to a degree, I do. It's not bad, but it isn't really any better than its source material either, while losing most of the silly charm in the process. I suppose it was nice of them to throw in a Bubo cameo. I missed that little R2-D2 rip-off.
Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), Clash of the Titans has, in his hands, become much more of an action movie, and he doesn't balance the need for more dramatic elements with the set pieces well. It's a problem I noticed in The Incredible Hulk, too, and to a lesser degree his entry of The Transporter series -- which can get away with a bare minimum of character drama.
The result feels truncated and a bit choppy, though good-looking, with some nifty FX (The Kraken looks awesome), and well constructed action sequences. His decision to shoot in real locations around the world was a welcome nod to the film's predecessors in the genre.
The story was different in only superficial ways from the original, though Perseus' motivation has been flipped from love to revenge, instead giving him an under-baked love interest in Io. That all served to sap any real personality from the character, an effect only multiplied by Sam Worthington's typically barely-there performance.
I just don't get why there's so much heat on Worthington. The only role I've seen him emote in was as a Na'vi in Avatar and that was painted on in post-production. I'm sure he's an affable guy in life, but on-screen, he's wall paper.
Supporting roles fare better with Neeson leading the pack as Zeus, radiating gravitas that was lacking in Olivier's kind of sleepy turn in the original. Among the mortals, Mads Mikkelsen (a decidedly immortal name) pretty much owns the screen as Draco, a warrior sent to aid Perseus on his quest. A few cold stares from him spoke more than Worthington's entire performance.
Gemma Arterton doesn't have to stretch much as the beautiful nymph Io. She already looks like a beautiful nymph. And she's fine in the role, though her character was little more than motivation to keep the plot moving. Like I said, her romantic angle with Perseus seemed under developed and tacked on.
The FX are all pretty, from the Lovecraftian design of The Kraken to the slickly re-vamped Medusa; though, they are utilized like boss monsters in a God of War game. It would have been nice if the script had provided enough dramatic beats to cement the threat they represent into something more compelling than just looking cool.
Clash of the Titans should have been better, but it's not a disaster. I do disassociate my fondness for the original from the new one, and what I see is a mediocre, though entertaining film, just like the first one. The real difference is, I haven't already forgotten the first one.
Into the Abyss
Andrea Arnold's sophomore effort, Fish Tank, is my first taste of the award-winning writer/director's work, and I'm sure it won't be the last. At least, I hope it's not.
Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a disaffected 15-year old girl who is living in Essex, England. She only has one friend, who has apparently stopped speaking to her, and it's easy to imagine why. Mia is angry, foul-mouthed and generally combative. To exacerbate her bad attitude, Mia's mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing) -- who is clinging to the last vestiges of her partying youth and general hotness -- is shipping Mia off to school, so she can be rid of her.
Mia dreams of being a hip-hop dancer and spends time practicing in an unoccupied flat because the other local girls, who dance in the park, all hate her. Her tough girl exterior is clearly covering a vulnerable heart, but life in her working class neighborhood has hardened Mia. Dancing allows her to drop her defenses.
One day, she finds her mom has a new man in the form of Conner (Michael Fassbender), a stranger out of nowhere, who seems a personable and roguish hunk. But as he spends more time with them, Mia begins to sense that the mysterious, too-good-to-be-true Conner might not be all that he seems.
Fish Tank isn't a light film. Its themes of familial and societal dysfunction and how they sometimes beget each other inspire sympathy and sometimes heart break, allowing for only occasional glimpses of light through the roiling, dramatic clouds. It's not as if the film is a total bummer, though. It's thoughtful and well acted enough to have an emotional complexity that is as varied as it is genuine.
Director Arnold crafts a personal yet unbiased portrait of these people, which breathes with slice-of-life vibrancy and is intimately told with her fly-on-the-wall visual aesthetic. It's almost as if you are walking alongside Mia for the entire film, bearing mute witness. She captures moments of somber beauty in the overcast skies, and the stormy face of her slowly maturing protagonist.
As Mia, Katie Jarvis is a natural. Literally. The non-actor was cast here in her first role after an assistant spotted her having a heated argument outside of a train station and thought she might have something. She does. Jarvis turns in a great performance that is shockingly well layered and almost transparent in its raw naturalism.
As Conner, Michael Fassbender gives a balanced complexity to the character I wouldn't have guessed was in him based on his larger-than-life turns in 300 and Inglourious Basterds. Conner is a tricky character to pull off -- just charismatic and likeable enough to make you hope that creepy vibe you sense is just a figment of your imagination.
Fish Tank is not the easiest of films -- it's deliberately paced, and its narrative is sometimes misty -- but it is intimately compelling, sad and hopeful. A window into lives and worlds we didn't know before the lights went out and won't soon shake off once they come back on.
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