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25 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
The Warrior's Way - What Works, 4 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Jang Dong Gun, the South Korean movie star who's known for far more than martial arts, has made his American blockbuster debut in "The Warrior's Way", a film about the greatest swordsman in the world who is forced to flee his home. While not precisely a science fiction movie, there are just enough fantastical elements in this Old Western-style action flick to make it into the genre without crossing over into the highly volatile "Sci-fi Western" category. And that definitely works for this movie. Here are some other things that work, and that don't work.

First, the plot. Yang, trained since childhood to be the greatest warrior ever, is sent by his tribe to destroy their rivals; every last one of them. However, when he meets the last one, a baby girl whom eventually is named April, he makes the decision not to kill her. This may seem like a cliché, but Yang's goal was never to become a murderer. As a boy, he saw his own father murdered. He was adopted, essentially, and trained by the leader of his tribe to become an assassin; but his only ambition is to become the greatest swordsman in the world, and that ambition is not served by killing an innocent child. Knowing that his tribe will target him next for his failure, Yang takes the little girl with him and sets course for America.

The circus town (very nearly a ghost town) which is his destination works for this movie. He goes there because an old friend of his lives there; well, lived there. Finding that his friend has passed away, he is persuaded by the townsfolk to stay and take over the laundry shop that has been idle ever since. He even takes over the flower garden that no one had yet been able to properly cultivate. The colorful characters, including the ringleader Eight-ball (Tony Cox), the drunken Ron (Geoffrey Rush), and the knife-throwing Lynne (Kate Bosworth), quickly befriend the wanderer from the Orient and his delightful little charge. Soon, Yang sees the advantages of, in the words of the narrator, "making things grow instead of cutting them down". Again, it's a cliché that could easily have been mishandled, but that director Sngmoo Lee deftly utilizes.

The fight scenes in this movie are spectacular. Yang's former compatriots eventually find him, as you'd expect; and, as you'd expect, an incredible battle ensues. Jang Dong Gun is neither over-the-top nor completely wooden as he plays the ruthless assassin cutting down his foes. The transition between the simple laundry man raising a little girl and the cool, calculating warrior is more seamless than you'd expect.

The ninjas aren't the only villains in this movie, either. Danny Huston plays the Colonel, a man who drops in and out of the town periodically, taking whatever he wants each time. Commanding a force of what seems like no fewer than a hundred Hell Riders, the various clowns and tricksters have little in the way of defense. However, Yang isn't the only resident of this thriving circus town who hides a warrior side. When the final battle ensues, expect to see plenty of blood shed on all sides.

Lynne's storyline doesn't quite work, though not for the reasons you might think. There must always be balance between the main plot and the subplots; specifically, the main plot must outweigh the others. Yang's story certainly outweighs that of the circus town itself. The performers want to make a complete transition from "traveling" to "stationary"; part of that effort is in the creation of the gigantic Ferris Wheel. However, both Yang's battle with his tribe and Lynne's with the Colonel eventually come first, and no alternative is left to the other residents but to fight when the time comes.

Between Yang and Lynne, there is an undeniable attraction, and an unmistakable chemistry as well. By the time the final fight has begun, it's clear they've become equals, in their own way. That's fine, for a romance movie; but for a romantic subplot to this particular movie, it's not the best formula. Even Lynne's confrontation with her adversary ends up seeming more central to the movie than Yang's own.

The "end" of the movie definitely works. I won't give too much away, except to say this: when you train your entire life as a killer, how can you expect to simply walk away, even if all your enemies are dead? The movie is more bloody than I normally enjoy, and I don't think every storyline worked as well as they could have. However, it was highly thrilling, and literally kept me on the edge of my seat during some scenes. Jang Dong Gun is my favorite part of the movie, quietly charming and deadly, some times at the same time. Even if "The Warrior's Way" itself doesn't take off, you can expect his future in cinema to, on both sides of the Pacific. He certainly works for me.

(Originally appeared at )

32 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
'Independence Day' or 'All we want to do is save the world!', 27 November 2010

There has been no lack of series about the young, troubled, and super-powered set. Arguably, the very concept of the super-hero genre has been called a teen power fantasy. The hero IS the teenager, striking out at the world, righting wrongs in a way a kid never could.

And I can see that. I can also see the implications of that notion. Because teens are sometimes scared of themselves. Scared of the new thoughts and feelings they have, the older they get. Scared of the changes in how they perceive themselves and how they see the world.

Why, even Robin has days when Batman seems like a weird control freak rather than the beloved mentor who keeps Gotham City safe! There comes a time when a young super-hero wants to venture out with his peers.

This is the core premise behind Young Justice, the latest series based on DC Comics' vast and rich mythos of super-heroes. Heading the series is Greg Weisman, perhaps best known for his work on the cult classic Disney series "Gargoyles" and the highly popular "Spectacular Spider-Man" animated series.

His strengths are character development, intelligent and complex villains, and world-building. We get quite a lot of each in the first episode.

The partners (do NOT call them "sidekicks") of the sixteen-member strong Justice League are getting ready to take their first step into, well, the Big League. Access to the Hall of Justice. Participation in the missions that save the World, the Universe, All of Reality, etc.

But when the League does get an alert, they're left to pose for tourists and stay put. How infuriating.

Why, it's almost enough to make them want to sneak out and investigate a mysterious fire at a top secret genetic research facility! Which they do…only to find that someone's after-school science project involves cloning the most powerful hero on Earth, and transforming him into a loyal, brainwashed slave. My, my, my… The banter is crisp and funny, ranging from Robin's pondering on why people are always being over or underwhelmed, yet one never hears about someone just being "whelmed", to the classic bit about confusing codenames: Bystander #1: "Hey, look. It's Speedy!" Bystander #2: "Oh. Is he the Flash's sidekick?" Bystander #1: "No, he's Green Arrow's." Bystander #2: "…*…well, that makes NO sense at ALL." Most of the episode sets up the cast dynamic. Speedy is the hot-headed rebel. So rebellious, in fact, that he storms off in a rage a mere eight minutes into the episode. Robin is the tech geek. Kid Flash is the plucky comedy relief ™. Aqualad is the calm, natural leader who always finds his center, despite increasing misgivings about the world and his place in it. And Superboy is the freshly-minted son Superman never knew he had…much to each other's mutual confusion and anger.

I loved the usage of obscure characters from the DC mythos, such as Blockbuster, the Golden Guardian and Dubbilex the DNAlien. I loved the twist about the true goals of the eerie creatures being created by the Big Bads.

The Big Bads themselves, an ominous unseen council of ominous known as "The Light" managed to seem creepy and smart rather than cliché and trite. Always a plus.

If I have a complaint about the pilot, it's that the female members of them team were either absent entirely (Artemis won't join until episode six) or only made a cameo in the coda (Miss Martian, the sweet-natured niece of J'Onn J'Onzz, Manhunter From Mars). Hopefully they'll be given a prominent role in the actual series.

All in all an exciting, witty, satisfying pilot. The scope of the series looks ambitious, the animation budget seems to be sky high, and the young heroes are now basically the Black Ops branch of the Justice League! That's a notion as disturbing as it is awesome. I'm sure the moral ambiguity will be addressed.

Count me in for the regular series, coming out January of next year.

(Originally appeared at )

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not A Children's Story, 19 November 2010

Earlier this week, I reread "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to refresh my memory before seeing the movie. A woman who sat next to me in the bookstore café asked a few questions about the book, noting, among other things, what a remarkable phenomenon the series had become. I offered my opinion that the author, J.K. Rowling, could hardly have predicted the immense success of her creation; that, when she started writing, her only objective was to write a children's story, and that is how you must always view the books, no matter how dark they become. However, the movies are certainly not bound by that.

At its heart, the Harry Potter books are and will always be children's books. The characters, unlike the fully-fleshed out characters in more "adult" series, tend to be more elemental. I wouldn't call them two-dimensional, but every character represents something in the series. Voldemort is the purest evil, while Ron and Hermione are Harry's loyal companions. Harry, of course, is our fearless hero, and Dumbledore is the ever-present mentor and guardian. That is, until we reach Book Seven. Everything about Harry's life and beliefs is challenged in this chapter of the series. His relationship with Dumbledore, who died at the end of Book Six and can no longer guide or protect him, is brought into question as new information about the old wizard's life surfaces after his death. As Harry seeks the means to destroy Voldemort, he becomes increasingly aware that Dumbledore left him with precious fews clues on how to do so.

At his side, of course, are Ron and Hermione who refuse to let him travel alone when half the wizarding world is looking for him, for one reason or another. After six years of friendship and shared danger, their trust in Harry hardly needs explanation. However, as the enormity of the task becomes ever more clear to them, dissension eats away at that trust, and the fact that they're all merely teenagers, albeit magicians, makes the mission that much more difficult. So much has been sacrificed on everyone's part, including family, that Harry is reluctant to ask or even accept any more sacrifices; and yet, even more will be required of all of them before the tale is complete.

I've always preferred the movies to the books. As compelling as Rowling's writing is, it is still intended primarily for children, and it shows. I don't mean that in a derogatory way; but elemental characters such as the brainy Hermione, the bumbling Hagrid, and the loony Luna need more to make them truly enjoyable. At times, they do break out of their "roles", and that is when they truly shine. Rowling does her best to give the readers a window into the characters' souls, to feel the weight of the burdens they carry. She certainly pulls no punches with Harry, barely allowing him a moment of triumph or celebration before adding another tragedy or burden to his lot.

The movies, on the other hand, add a bit more realism to the struggle. It's not just the "picture says a thousand words" element. It's the little touches, the slight changes in dialogue from page to screen, that make the characters less elemental and more human. The pruning of a scene or editing of exposition here and there eases the rhythm and allows the viewer to go with the flow. The soundtrack itself does a fantastic job of bringing the story to life (keep your ears open for Nick Cave's "O Children", which adds a particular bittersweetness to one compelling scene).

There is so much that changes in this seventh installment that, after a few early scenes have ended, you can hardly recognize the series. There are familiar faces, of course, and the main element remains: the fact that Harry Potter must defeat Lord Voldemort himself or die trying. This is only the first part of Book Seven, of course; the second half will wait until next summer. Expect everything to change again.

(Originally appeared as "Not A Children's Story" at )

Skyline (2010)
51 out of 94 people found the following review useful:
Alien Invasion or Zombie Apocalypse?, 13 November 2010

(Originally appeared as "Alien Invasion or Zombie Apocalypse?" at

There are certain elements that you expect to find in an alien invasion movie: massive spaceships, all out war, maybe even a bit of mind control. You certainly get that and more in "Skyline", directed by Colin and Greg Strause, the story of a few friends in Los Angeles who wake early one morning to find extraterrestrials have arrived (and they have not come in peace). Blinding blue lights beckon humans irresistibly to the alien spaceships, which harvest the humans for ...

Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, meet our heroes. Eric Balfour (24, Haven) and Scottie Thompson (NCIS, Trauma) play Jarrod and Elaine, a pair of lovers who are visiting LA on their friend's birthday. Donald Faison (Scrubs) plays Terry, who Jarrod "always knew would make it big." Terry wants Jarrod to move to LA permanently, though that causes some issues with Elaine who has no desire to embrace Terry's lifestyle. While I've always been something of a fan of Scottie Thompson, and knowing that Faison and Balfour have their own followings, I have to say that they do not make the greatest transition from the smallscreen to the bigscreen (though all have had minor-to-supporting roles in previous movies, this is the first time they've headlined a major production).

Most disaster flicks try to focus on the main characters and how the "disaster", whether it's an alien invasion, an asteroid crashing to the Earth, or some other "end of the world" scenario, changes their lives and relationships. "Skyline", however, has no problem abandoning that particular story arc in favor of a straight survivalist narrative for the remainder of the movie. The characters, faced with aliens that not only abduct humans by the hundreds but also turn them into mindless shells in the process, quickly if imperfectly abandon all personal issues in their efforts to escape the threat while they still can.

That's where the genre comes off the rails a bit, I feel, in this case. In most alien invasion movies, you form a resistance and you push the invaders off the planet. After all, unless you want your movie to have an unhappy ending, there's simply no other way to end an invasion. On the other hand, if you're going for the "gritty realism" that seems to be the order of the day for all movies now, how do you realistically expect to stop an intergalactic fleet that can wipe out whole cities in less than a day? As clever as the ending to H.G. Wells' story "War of the Worlds" was, you just can't expect a hyper-advanced race, capable of decimating the human race in a matter of days, to not have considered the common cold (or hackers, Mr. Emmerich).

While the United States military is certainly not idle during this crisis, we soon enough learn that there's little they can do against this menace; so, you can imagine, there's far less that our heroes can do. One particularly clear-thinking character points this out several times while trying to keep Jarrod from leaving the relative safety of their apartment, and, not incidentally, increasing the feeling of hopelessness for the audience. I found myself repeating a mantra at one point during the movie: there is no escape, there is no rescue, and there is no resistance. If the Brothers Strause accomplished one thing with their movie, besides some of the greatest special effects to hit theaters since "Avatar" (which they also helped to create), it's a realistic scenario in the event that an alien invasion ever occurs. In short, Stephen Hawking was right.

So, where does that leave us? And with what? We have a small band of survivors facing what could be the end of the human race against a foe that seemingly can't be killed (or, at least, won't stay killed). They try to run, they try to hide, and they try to lock themselves in a hotel until they can be rescued. They face the everpresent probability that, not only could they die at the hands of these monsters, they could even face something much worse than death. Tensions flare between the survivors as they struggle to think of and stick to a workable plan. Mistrust and doubt lead to "dissension in the ranks". No one is sure who the "leader" is, and they're even less sure of what their fate will be. The question is not can they survive, but for how long. As I watched, I realized that's never really a question I asked myself while watching alien invasion movies before; but I almost always ask it while watching zombie movies.

I enjoyed this movie for its amazing visuals and special effects. The Brothers Strause have proved their proficiency repeatedly, and this movie is absolutely an example of doing more with less (much of it was shot in their own apartment building). They even did a fair job of directing the characters in what was essentially the first major outing for everyone involved. While it had hints of M. Night Shyamalan, Roland Emmerich, and even a bit of Steven Spielberg, it was the Strauses own film, right up until the strangely compelling closing scene. I wouldn't call it deserving of an Oscar, but I am eager to see what the duo produce next.

11 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
A Very Ordinary TV Show, 28 September 2010

Remember TGIF? No, not the restaurant; the Friday night programming block on ABC. From the mid-80′s until about the turn of the century, it featured such family-friendly favorites as "Perfect Strangers", "Full House", "Boy Meets World", and "Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch". As Friday night started to become less of a "ratings" night, the programming has become more and more of a dumpster slot, with less popular programming taking up the evening. Most of the shows, if they can be seen at all, can only be found in cable syndication or DVD boxsets.

Its spirit is still alive and well on ABC, though, in the new superhero family show "No Ordinary Family". Michael Chiklis ("The Commish", "Fantastic Four") and Julie Benz ("Angel", "Dexter") are Jim and Stephanie Powell, a typical nuclear family. They love each other, and their children Daphne and JJ, played by Kay Panabaker and Jimmy Bennett, but they just can't seem to make their "dysfunctional" family work in today's high-paced world. Stephanie has her career, Daphne has boy trouble, and JJ is struggling in school. Jim suggests they turn Stephanie's work trip to Brazil into a little working vacation for the whole family to give them all a chance to reconnect. The trip almost ends in disaster, as they charter a tour plane that crash lands in the middle of a storm. The family manages to swim ashore and return home, where things seem to return to normal.

Seem to.

Jim, returning to his job as a police sketch artist, manages to save a colleague's life by catching a bullet with his bare hand. Stephanie (always in a hurry) finds that she has superspeed and can now make time to spend with her (almost) estranged family. The kids take a little longer to discover their own powers, but in the end, this "ordinary" family discovers they've gained something extraordinary.

It's a fun premise, and perfect for the network that brought us "Step by Step" and "Family Matters". But while the laughs are good and the few special effects they use are visually interesting, it's about par for the course. One can hardly imagine how suddenly gaining superpowers would affect anyone, let alone a whole family at once, so you can hardly criticize the writers for what seems to be some fairly disjointed dialogue. Blending discussions of how these powers will change their lives with talk of the problems they had before the accident doesn't go over so well. And while Chiklis and Benz are great performers, their chemistry does seem a little forced at times.

I usually give origin stories and series premieres a pass, especially where superheroes are concerned. After all, this is a new cast, with a new mythology and even new physics, it seems (keep your ears open for a fair amount of "lampshading" when it comes to explaining how their powers work). I'm even a little excited at the prospect of more family-friendly programming. That being said, I didn't see much about this show that made me think "extraordinary" was quite the right word for it. We'll just have to see how the rest of the season goes.

(Read the original review at )

Devil (2010)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
You can't call it M. Night's return to greatness (because it's not his movie)., 18 September 2010

"Devil" opened in theaters this weekend. It's the first in a trilogy of horror movies "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan". But it's not M. Night's movie.

Perhaps conscious of the "M. Night Curse" (that sense that each of his movies is worse than the previous one), Shyamalan has decided to cede control of the Night Chronicles trilogy to others. He conceived the stories himself and acts as producer, but the tasks of writing the screenplays and directing the movies belong to others. In the case of "Devil", he turns to horror screenwriter Brian Nelson ("30 Days of Night") and brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle ("Quarantine") to direct.

Five strangers, unconnected to each other, just happen to end up in the same malfunctioning elevator at the same time. Or do they? As the story goes, the Devil is not always content to wait until souls arrive in Hell to punish them for their sins. Sometimes, he assumes human form to torment them right here on Earth. So we're left wondering, which of them is the Devil? And what did they do to deserve this? The story doesn't just take place in the elevator, though. A police detective, brought there to investigate while the building workers struggle to free the captives, has some (figurative) demons in his own past. Though his faith has been shaken, he is forced to consider that there are more things in Heaven, Earth, and even Hell than he would like to believe.

You can tell, almost from beginning and certainly to the end that this is not a typical "M. Night" film. His particular brand of "twist" is missing from this movie (though there is a twist or two near the end). Nor is it a typical horror film. The horror elements are there, including the eponymous Devil, but only insofar as they advance the storyline. I would categorize it as more of a locked room mystery, to be honest; though, of course, when one of the occupants of the "room" is the Devil, you can't take anything for granted.

I would also call it a good movie. Not a great one, necessarily, but not as bad as some other titles Shyamalan has provided over the last few years. It's hard to say just how much influence he had over the movie itself, though the Dowdle brothers were certainly glad to have his name attached to it. All publicity is good publicity, as they say. Does it break the M. Night Curse? Perhaps not; but it's a good movie, all the same. I can now say that I eagerly await the next installment in the trilogy.

(You can read the original review here: )

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Equal parts The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project, 14 September 2010

Equal parts The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project with a generous dollop of Rosemary's Baby thrown in for good measure, the Daniel Stamm-directed Last Exorcism takes elements of its obvious antecedents and deftly (for the most part) blends them into a solid, genuinely tense horror film that only goes off the rails in the last ten minutes or so. Before that, though, it's quite an entertaining ride.

Filmed in documentary style, complete with interviews and photo inserts, the story behind The Last Exorcism concerns holy-rolling pastor Cotton Marcus, who once truly believed in demons and performed exorcisms just like his father before him. Following a crisis of faith, Reverend Marcus realizes he no longer truly believes, but continues casting out demons in order to earn money for his family, justifying his "fraud" by claiming to rid his clients of the delusion that they are possessed. Even so, his conscience still bothers him, so he allows a two-person film crew to document his "last exorcism," in order to show the world how easy it is to perform one with trickery, before hanging up his crucifix forever.

The recipients of Reverend Marcus's help -- chosen randomly from a pile of letters he's received -- are an isolated farm family in the backwoods of Louisiana. The father, Louis Sweetzer, believes his sixteen-year-old daughter Nell is possessed and has been killing the livestock, though she claims not to remember a thing. Nell herself -- played flawlessly by Ashley Bell -- is a sweetly naive, homeschooled child who seems quite incapable of violence, though her luminous face and large, uncannily dark eyes may mask a more sinister aspect.

Reverend Marcus, smug in his belief that Nell's problem is likely psychological and not demonic, puts on a show for the family, complete with a Hollywood-style "exorcism" performed with simple special effects. Of course, once this sham exorcism is over and the reverend has collected his (exorbitant) fee, he thinks that will be the end of it. But of course, this being a horror film, it's only the beginning.

One of the great strengths of The Last Exorcism is the way it ramps up the tension as the reverend and the film crew gradually become more and more entangled with the sick dynamics of this insular fundamentalist family and come to realize that they may have to take drastic measures to intervene and save Nell's life. As Nell seemingly begins to lose her mind, there are some frightening (and wince-inducing) moments, all punctuated by Nell's disturbingly innocent/terrifying gaze. Also impressive are the actors' performances, which are uniformly compelling and completely believable, which is crucial when making a "mockumentary" of this sort.

It is, in fact, the believability of the actors that keeps the bizarre, over-the-top ending from being entirely ludicrous, though it's a fairly close call. The ending doesn't spoil the film by a long way, but it could have vaulted The Last Exorcism from good to great had the filmmakers restrained themselves and kept the eerie, low-key suspense of the rest of the film throughout, rather than shattering the unsettling ambiguity with an out-of-the-blue and sadly laughable finish.

Despite that admittedly large flaw, and despite the fact that the film seemed rather gory for its PG-13 rating, The Last Exorcism was an accomplished mashup of old and new horror tropes that managed some genuinely scary scenes and a pleasurably creepy atmosphere of claustrophobic dread.

(Read the original review here:

Inception (2010)
19 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
Two Words To Describe "Inception", 16 July 2010

Christopher Nolan, the visionary director behind "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", and "Memento", has finally brought to life his project of more than twenty years. Featuring a cast of some of the world's greatest stars, both young and old, and having been filmed in locations in six different countries, "Inception", in the words of the L.A. Times, "blends the best of traditional and modern film-making".

Leonardo DiCaprio headlines as Cobb, a con man who specializes in stealing people's secrets from within their very minds. Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock from the Sun") gives a remarkable performance as his partner in crime. Tom Hardy ("Star Trek: Nemesis"), Dileep Rao ("Avatar"), and Ellen Page ("Juno") round out a team of highly talented "intrusion experts". They are hired by Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai") to do the impossible: rather than steal an idea from their target's (Cillian Murphy, "28 Days Later ...") mind, they are to plant an idea through a process called "inception".

There are many words to describe this movie. "Crime drama", "sci-fi thriller", "international intrigue", and "mind-bending masterpiece" all would certainly be on the list. Nolan keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very last second, barely giving you time to breathe as you try to peel the layers and decide what is real and what is illusion. There are many questions to answer as you follow the characters ever deeper into the world of dreams. The greatest questions, however, surround Cobb himself and his motives.

Cobb is not your typical thief taking on "one last job". While his partner believes Cobb is just hoping to complete the job so he can see his children again, Page's character begins to suspect that he is seeking something more. She soon learns that Cobb is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, played by Marion Cotillard ("Public Enemies"), who does far more than simply distract him from his duties. After all, in the world of the subconscious, even the smallest distraction can take you in directions you never expected to go.

Like the layers of the dream worlds the team constructs for their marks, this movie is crafted to convey one story; one single point that comes delivered wrapped in marvelous visual effects, pulse-pounding action sequences, intelligent dialogue, and even a fair amount of humor. That single point, the two words I would use to describe this movie, is "love story". The great mystery of "Inception" is the story of Cobb and his family, his wife and children, what he has done to them, and how far he will go to recover them. While most reviewers may focus on the spectacular special effects or the unique storytelling elements, I believe the central theme of "Inception" is the unraveling of Cobb's character. Everything else is a vehicle for this storyline.

As a writer, I think this is one of the finest examples of good storytelling I've seen. As a moviegoer, I can't think of a better way to spend my money. I would recommend "Inception" to anyone, be they seeking an action movie, an art film, a mystery thriller, or a science-fiction wonder ride. For me, it is all those things and more; but at its heart, it is a poignant love story.

(Read original review here:

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Old vs. New, 2 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The comment I've heard/read most often is people expect the new movie to be all special effects and no real plot. That's funny to me; and not funny "ha ha". In my own humble opinion, the same criticism could very well apply to the original movie.

That's not to suggest the first "Clash" lacked a plot. It featured a hero, the classic Greek hero Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus. Perseus embarks on a quest to save the princess Andromeda and her home city from a sea monster. Along his way, he faces gigantic scorpions, a trio of hideous witches, a rejected beast of a man named Calibos, and the cursed creature Medusa. It's an interesting enough plot, and one that the new movie emulates to a degree; but the pacing of the original movie and the unfolding of the plot were both rather ... haphazard.

Perseus' presence in the city is the doing of the sea goddess Thetis. Jealous of the fact that Zeus' son is blessed with everything her son Calibos is not, Thetis transports Perseus to the city, where he learns of Calibos' efforts to ruin Andromeda's happiness. When Perseus intervenes and frees Andromeda of the deformed man's influence, and when Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia suggests that her daughter is more beautiful than any goddess, Thetis places a curse on the city which can only be lifted if Andromeda is sacrificed to the dreaded Kraken.

There's nothing wrong with a hero rescuing cities, slaying monsters, and marrying princesses; in fact, it's kind of the entire job description. On the other hand, Harry Hamlin, who plays Perseus in the 1981 version, goes from scene to scene with all the intensity of a teenager on a scavenger hunt. Sam Worthington adds something Hamlin's Perseus was lacking: motivation. Worthington's Perseus didn't arrive in Andromeda's city by chance; his adopted family were caught in the crossfire of a rebellion between Men and Gods, and only his own divine heritage kept him from dying with them. His quest is fueled by a desire to avenge their deaths on the God Hades, who stole their lives and (in this version) called for Andromeda's sacrifice.

Perseus had good reason to hate the gods, or at least be suspicious of them. His love of his adopted family and grief over their deaths at the hands of a god led him to reject any connection to the gods, even his father Zeus. Played in the 2010 version by Liam Neeson, Zeus is sympathetic to the plight of humanity. However, his anger at the rebellion, which culminated in a group of soldiers tumbling his statue into the sea, led him to allow his brother Hades to remind mankind "of the order of things". He does try to help his son on his quest, though. There are overtones of an almost Christian relationship between Zeus, Perseus, and humanity at large in this remake.

A few of the more obvious differences between the original and the remake include Perseus' companions. Originally, most of the soldiers who accompanied him had neither names nor much character development. Now, Perseus follows the soldiers, rather than leading them. They all have names, backgrounds, and their own personal feelings about a "demi-god" joining them in their efforts to save their home.

Another character who is "between" Men and Gods is the immortal Io, played by lovely British actress Gemma Arterton. Cursed to stay young while those she loves grow old and die, her extended lifetime of acquired wisdom and knowledge makes her an invaluable guide for Perseus. She fills two roles: the wise mentor, originally filled by Ammon, played by film legend Burgess Meredith; and the love interest, originally filled by Princess Andromeda.

That second revision came as somewhat of a relief to me. Perseus had hardly any time (or reason) to become as heavily invested in Andromeda as he did in the first movie. When you save someone's life, it's expected that a bond will form between you; but for Hamlin's Perseus, it was apparently love at first sight. I'm romantic enough to let that slide (usually), but Worthington's on screen romance with Arterton was much more believable.

Now, let's tackle the "purist" objections. It's my position, in the case of sequels at least, you should adhere to the source material as closely as possible. Remakes, however, are supposed to stray (within reason). Did Perseus and Io have a relationship in the previous movie? No. On the other hand, Perseus didn't ride Pegasus, the winged horse, in the original Greek myth, as he did in both movies; he wore winged shoes given to him by the gods. The thrilling line "Release the Kraken!", delivered by Zeus in both movies, was never uttered by classical Zeus, simply because the Kraken wasn't a creature from Greek myth. Was Hades ever an actual villain, as he is so often portrayed in film? No; he was simply the God of the Underworld, a position he was never "tricked" into accepting.

It's called artistic license. If remakes were supposed to be "faithful", then we wouldn't need them, would we? We'd just watch the original again, which I did before watching this one. With all due respect to Ray Harryhausen, I prefer the remade "Clash of the Titans". Director Louis Leterrier did a fine job diagnosing what worked from the original film and what didn't, cutting scenes here and amending them there. What he ultimately produced may fit the label of a "rock 'n roll epic", but it also fits the label of a "classic epic", one with a believable hero, courageous companions, and pulse-pounding adventure. More than just an action flick, it is a portrait of one man's journey to discover his true heritage.

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Six Impossible Things I Can Believe About 'Alice in Wonderland', 8 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The purist in me wanted to hate the movie before it was even completed; but, when in Wonderland, you must be willing to let go of everything you know and embrace what you see. And so, as Alice herself did, I'll list the six impossible things I can believe.

The first is Alice herself. She's no longer a little girl, but a grown woman who needs to decide what direction to follow in life. The adventures of her childhood, she's now convinced, were simply dreams. Now, when the White Rabbit leads her down to Wonderland, it is no chance encounter. The narrative woven by Tim Burton is one of a chosen protector, a champion whose intervention will free the inhabitants of Wonderland from the dominion of a tyrant. That champion, of course, is Alice herself.

The tyrant is the Red Queen, who years ago usurped the crown from her sister, the White Queen. This is the second impossible thing. The character of the Red Queen is blended with that of the Queen of Hearts, as she often is. Originally, though, the Queen of Hearts was always the ruler of Wonderland, lording (or ladying?) over the other Suits (Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades). The Red and White Queens lived in Looking-Glass Land, and despite their chess battle, they were actually quite friendly with each other. That was the first thing that bothered me about this new movie when I learned about it. However, if you're going to have an epic battle, which this movie does, then you can either face the Queen of Hearts against the other Suits (which may or may not have been a good idea) or you can do what Tim Burton did. One thing you cannot do is have an 'Alice' movie without the Queen yelling "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!"

The Jabberwock is number three (and yes, it's Jabberwock, not Jabberwocky). The fearsome dragon of Looking-Glass Land never quite made an appearance in the book, or most of the movies. However, it does make an appearance in this movie, as the Red Queen's resident beastie. It is the creature that Alice must slay if she is to end the Red Queen's reign of terror.

Some very unlikely characters help Alice in her quest. The Cheshire Cat, originally so enigmatic as to be entirely unhelpful, now is almost eager to put his very life on the line for Alice, the White Queen, and even the Hatter himself. Still an enigma, and still charmingly puzzling, he is another indispensable character, wonderfully played by British character actor Stephen Fry.

If the Cheshire Cat is one example of an unlikely character coming to the rescue, then the Hatter is an even better one. Still mad, and still drinking tea with his friends the March Hare and Dormouse when Alice finds him, the Hatter is perhaps the one resident of Wonderland who has been most affected by the Red Queen's rule. His desire to see the "bloody bighead" fall prompts him to risk his life for Alice time and again, even though he is one of the few in Wonderland who actually believes she is the intended champion. "I'd know you anywhere," he declares, helping her escape capture at the hands of Stayne, the infamous Knave of Hearts, played by Crispin Glover.

The sixth impossible thing is how much I actually liked this movie. Despite the changes made, the end product is quite a good story. Several characters from the books and previous movies didn't quite make the cut, of course. One character I would have really liked to see would have been the White Knight from Looking-Glass Land, who was Alice's escort for part of her journey and would have been more believable in the role filled by the Mad Hatter. I also would've liked the angle I proposed earlier, with the Red Queen appearing completely as the Queen of Hearts and facing Suits rather than the White Army in the end. It would have made more sense to me.

But this is Wonderland; a world of adventure, not logic; of madness, not sanity; of childlike wonder, not cynical criticism. Some say this movie lacked heart; I say the heart is where this movie's strength truly rested. I came close to walking into the movie with my mind made-up, having already decided what it had done "wrong" and how it "should" be. In that sense, I was a little like Alice, falling into a world she had visited before, facing a host of changes, firmly convinced that she would wake up at any moment to what she "knew" was right. I decided not to be that way; not to lose, in the words of the Hatter, my "muchness".

So, if you want to be like Alice, constantly trying to make sense of the madness in this movie, then that's up to you; but I recommend, instead of falling into the rabbithole, you jump in with both feet.

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