The Public Movie Defender – “Clash of the Titans” (2010)

MOVIE DEFENDER

The idea behind The Public Movie Defender is to take up the cause of a particular movie that I believe is better than the majority of reviews it has received. These are movies which I feel are worth either a second look or at least a more open examination considering the predominantly negative opinions of them. The films chosen are ones that I like so therefore I’m taking their case and defending them before the court of negative opinion. Let the trial begin…

DEFENDANT #3 – “Clash of the Titans” (2010)

CLASH POSTERWhen I first came up with the idea for this fun little thing called The Public Movie Defender there were several movies that immediately came to mind for inclusion. Some are personal favorites that I am deeply passionate about and others are simply movies that I feel are good yet that get pounded a bit unfairly. Some aren’t that difficult to defend while others are a REALLY hard sell. 2010’s remake of “Clash of the Titans” is one of those hard sells. And while I wouldn’t categorize it as a personal favorite, I do think it’s a good movie that doesn’t deserve the level of disdain it has received.

“Clash of the Titans” had its work cut out for it. It’s a remake of a cult classic from 1981 that featured a wonderful fantasy adventure as well as the final work of stop-motion special effects master Ray Harryhausen. This time advanced makeup and a ton of CGI would serve to bring the world to life and that in itself was quite the task. While my deep affection for Harryhausen’s brilliance trumps the new computer effects, this “Clash of the Titans” features some fantastic effects that easily overshadows the few visual hiccups that we get.

And then there’s the story. There were two different approaches that the remake could have taken. The film could have taken a grittier and more serious look at the material or it could try and capture many of the nostalgic elements of the original. By that I mean the over-the-top language, the massive cheese, the classic fantasy movie plot dynamics. The filmmakers made a deliberate choice to modernize the story a bit but also tip their hat and incorporate a lot of these late 1970’s and 1980’s approaches to fantasy storytelling.

CLash 1

I think this is what alienated some people. I think this clashed with people’s familiarity with modern filmmaking and current cinematic storytelling that we get today. Personally I ate it up. The stilted and uber cheesy dialogue along with several old school plot mechanics brought back memories of the “Sinbad” films, “Ice Pirates”, “Conan”, and “Kull”. These are films that I grew up watching and I clearly see how the movie uses and embraces them. The great actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes ham it up as Zeus and Hades. Are they cheesy? Yes, more so than a pizza. But they are supposed to be. I completely understand if that doesn’t work for some people, but I don’t see it as a deep flaw in the movie itself. I responded to it with a nostalgic smile and appreciation.

Now it’s not like everything in the movie imitates the original. A tightly shorn Sam Worthington replaces a mop headed Harry Hamlin as Perseus. Some have had issue with Worthington’s character and performance. Not me. I like this grittier and more solemn turn. Considering all that his character faces I can understand him being a bit angry and coarse. I think Worthington brings a toughness and physicality to the role that I welcomed. Add to that an interesting and fun supporting cast of traditional survival-fantasy characters (again a tip of the hat to those old-school flicks). None are better than the great Mads Mikkelsen as the gruff and tough Draco, captain of the King’s Guard.

Clash of the Titans

The movie features the classic fantasy tale. A quest is in place which takes Perseus and crew on a ‘who will survive’ adventure. Along the way they face threats such as witches, Medusa, and of course giant scorpions. And what a scene it is when the giant scorpions appear. Incredible visuals and a beautifully filmed sequence. And then there’s the Kraken. There’s perhaps nothing in this film ridiculed more than Liam Neeson’s command to “Release the Kraken”. And while I wouldn’t call it the equivalent of a great thespian’s oration, it’s not that bad of a line. Sure it’s absolute cheese, but the mockery was really fueled by the the line’s use in the trailers and TV spots. The Kraken itself looks cool and Neeson’s over-the-top unleashing fits in perfectly.

I believe that your opinion of this film will be dictated by expectations and preferences. It’s worth recognizing what the filmmakers are doing and the type of movie they’re making. I think they set a cool nostalgic target and hit it dead center. Now to be clear, I’m not saying this is a perfect film. But I really like what they did. It took me right back to those movies that I would lay in the floor and watch on Saturday afternoons. That made this a fun and entertaining experience and when considering the film in that light I see it as a success. The sequel was a massive disappointment, but for my money “Clash of the Titans” was a blast.

VERDICT: “CLASH OF THE TITANS” – 4 STARS

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIES THAT I LIKE BUT NO ONE ELSE DOES

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

Ok, I’m opening myself up to tons of mockery and ridicule but that’s the nature of the Phenomenal 5 right? After a break for the holidays I thought it would be fun to start the Phenomenal 5 back up with a list that should have people letting me know how nutty my taste in movies can sometimes be. I’m listing five phenomenal movies that I really like and enjoy but that few others seem to care for (ok “phenomenal” may be a stretch but just go with it). There have been a few movies over the years that I (and apparently I alone) have really liked that simply wasn’t liked by anyone else. In fact, I bet we all have some of those films in the backs of our minds. I mean just here recently I took some good ribbing over my positive review of “Snow White and the Huntsman”. Well you won’t find it on this list but I’m offering up five flicks that I’ve seen multiple times and still thoroughly enjoy even if no one else does.

#5 – “WATERWORLD”

Waterworld

It’s not that “Waterworld” is hated, but it’s safe to say that few people really appreciate the movie as much as I do. Everyone knows the story. At the time, “Waterworld” was the most expensive movie ever made and it never actually made a profit until well into it’s home video release. I’ve always believed this played into the reason why this this film never impressed a lot of people. It’s certainly not the most polished movie but as for creative post-apocolpyptic sci-fi goes, I found it to be a lot of fun. It didn’t do Kevin Costner’s career any favors and it’s still laughed at by some and deemed utterly forgettable by others. But I still feel “Waterworld” is clever and unique and I can watch it today and still have a good time.

#4 – “JOHN CARTER”

John Carter

I honestly still struggle in understanding the backlash against this year’s “John Carter”. Like “Waterworld”, it wasn’t the most even and polished movie that you’ll see, but it was far from being a terrible film. And to be honest, I had a great time watching “John Carter” on the big screen with my son and it held up after a second viewing. This isn’t a movie that has any chance of making it on my top 10 of 2012, but I thought it to be a visual feast of cool effects and futuristic creativity. I also found myself interested in the story throughout even though there were a few rough patches. This movie was slammed by critics and moviegoers alike but it’s a movie that I liked and that I can appreciate despite its few flaws.

#3 – “STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE”

STAR WARS

Okay, it’s probably safe to say that not everyone hates this movie. But it’s also safe to say that millions of Star Wars fan boys, a group that I proudly consider myself a part, took great issue with this movie. In fact, many people still blast this film as a devilish plot to kill the Star Wars franchise. I certainly don’t consider this movie to be as good as any of the three films in the original trilogy. But it does feel like a Star Wars movie to me and it has its own special moments that set it apart. Yes, I hate Jar-Jar and yes, midichlorians are absurd. But the space sequences never looked better and it probably gave us the best light saber duel in the entire franchise. It was a no win situation for Lucas, but for me he pulls it off.

#2 – “CLASH OF THE TITANS”

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Talk about a movie that I spent a lot of time to defending! With the exception of my lovely wife and 10-year old son, I don’t think I found another person that I know who liked this movie. It was criticized for everything from the cheesy dialogue to Sam Worthington’s haircut. But I still think people completely missed what this movie was aiming for. I grew up adoring the “Sinbad” movies, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and of course “Clash of the Titans”. This remake was a simple tip of the hat to that past movie genre. It wasn’t trying to be new or groundbreaking. It was a fun, creature-filled action romp that took me back to my childhood. It’s sequel is utter crap, but I still proudly stand by this one, and I still thinks is does more things right than it’s given credit for.

#1 – “THE TIME MACHINE”

TIME MACHINE

I really like every movie that I’ve mentioned, but this is the one film on the list that I truly love. It’s hard to explain especially because I recognize that this film has several flaws. It’s a shining example of how a movie with a great lead performance and a handful of wonderful scenes can be a genuinely memorable experience. Look, I admit the special effects are sometimes laughable and it flies a little off the rails in the second half. But I love Guy Pearce’s performance and I buy into everything his character is doing and feeling. It’s authentic and heartfelt from the opening sequence to the beautiful final shot. And while most people have dismissed this movie, it still moves me each time I watch it.

So go ahead, get your verbal guns ready. I’ve made myself an easy target. Which of these movies have I lost my mind defending? How about you? What are some movies that others hate but you adore? Please share your thoughts and please….go easy on me.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIES FROM 1981

I recently did a Phenomenal 5 on the movies of 1980. Well now it’s time for 1981. As a kid of the 80’s, there are so many of these films that strike a nostalgic chord with me. There are also many genuinely classic pictures that came out of the decade that still stand up today. As I look at these years I’ve decided to allow both nostalgia and classic movies to influence my choices. That was never more evident than with my picks for the year 1981. Of course, with so many movies released that year, I couldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these 5 movies from 1981 are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON”

1981 wasn’t the greatest year for movies but it did give us some memorable ones including “An American Werewolf in London”. This crazy mix of horror and comedy follows two American backpackers vacationing through the English countryside. They are attacked by a werewolf which kills one and leaves the other in a London hospital. But everyone knows that if you’re bit by a werewolf you’ll turn into a werewolf and so this story goes. The film features some truly fantastic special effects and Academy Award winning makeup. But one thing that set this apart from most horror pictures is its clever sense of humor from the dialogue to the various moon-oriented songs. It definitely mixes laughs with its buckets of gore.

#4 – “CLASH OF THE TITANS”

I wouldn’t normally think a fantasy film starring Harry Hamlin would be a good experience. But when you throw in Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and special effects from the master of stop-motion animation Ray Harryhausen, I’m automatically onboard. This mythological fantasy picture pits our bushy haired hero Perseus against an awesome assortment of creatures including Medusa and of course the mighty Kraken. Sure the movie is campy and loaded with cheese. But there were many of these fantasy movies that hit the theaters during the 70’s and 80’s and “Clash of the Titans” is one of the best of them.

#3 – “THE ROAD WARRIOR”

“The Road Warrior” was the second film in the Mad Max series and it was the movie that put Mel Gibson on the international map. This Australian action picture from George Miller creates one of the most impressive postapocalyptic landscapes in the movies. Gibson’s Max is a tough-as-nails ex-cop who ends up helping a group of settlers who are being terrorized by a murderous gang. The film features some amazing action, none better than the breath-taking vehicle chase scene at the end that still rivals anything else like it. This isn’t a movie that will appeal to everyone but it’s one I thoroughly enjoy.

#2 – “THE EVIL DEAD”

“The Evil Dead” remains one of my favorite horror pictures of all time and to this day it still creeps me out. Two friends and aspiring filmmakers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made “The Evil Dead” with a tiny budget of around $350,000. Now it’s blossomed into a cult classic with two really good sequels. A group of college kids head out to spend their spring break in a cabin in the woods. Once there, they discover The Book of the Dead and end up unleashing a horde of demons who begin killing them off one-by-one. It’s unashamedly gory but intensely creepy. It’s also a great example of quality filmmaking without the benefit of boatloads of money. And of course Campbell is a blast to watch. This is without a doubt a horror movie classic.

#1 – “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”

Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies from the 80’s was Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Not only was this a classic action picture but it introduced one of the most iconic cinema heroes of all time – Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford makes Indiana great through his pitch-perfect performance, rugged grit, and cracking whip. The movie features one of the greatest action-fueled character introductions you’ll find as Indiana and a young Alfred Molina venture into a deadly cave to retrieve a golden head. But his true adventure starts after he finds out the Nazis may have found the lost Ark of the Covenant. Indy races off to find it before the Nazi’s do and encounters a great assortment of friends and villains along the way. Brilliant construction, amazing action sequences, and just the right amount of humor help make this a true movie classic.

There are my five picks of phenomenal movies from 1981. Do you see one that I missed? Disagree with my selections? Please take time to share your thoughts.

“WRATH OF THE TITANS” – 2 1/2 STARS

Apparently I was one of the few who liked 2010’s “Clash of the Titans”, a remake of the 1981 mythological action film. In fact, one of my biggest disagreements with critics centered around their brutal reviews of that movie. I like the remake because it never pretended to be anything other than what it was. It was a fantasy monster picture in the same vein as the first “Clash of the Titans”, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and the “Sinbad” films. In many ways the remake was an homage to that old genre, replacing the classic stop motion animation with computer-generated imagery. The movie wasn’t a deep, intellectual exercise nor was it intended to be. It was a fun popcorn action flick that reminded me of those old films I grew up with.

That brings us to “Wrath of the Titans”, an original sequel that tries to strike the same chords as the first film but ends up falling short. The sequel starts at least 10 years after the ending of the first movie. Perseus (Sam Worthington) has settled down in a small village where he fishes and raises his son Helius (John Bell). Zeus (Liam Neeson) pays him a visit and tells him that the walls of Tartarus are falling and the God’s powers to stop them is limited due to the lack of prayers from the humans. Zeus’ brief words are really the only introduction we get to story. There’s practically no setup at all. Perseus first refuses to get involved choosing to stay and raise his son instead. But when the walls of Tartarus fall, monsters are unleashed across the earth and one attacks Perseus’ village. Of course this gets him immediately involved.

Much like the first film, “Wrath of the Titans” turns into quest movie. Perseus teams up with Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Agenor (Toby Kebbell), Poseidon’s demigod son, and several token tagalongs to stop the fire monster Kronos from being freed from Tartarus. To do that they will need three weapons that will join together to form the Spear of Triam. Much like “Clash”, the journey takes them to several locations and they encounter several different creatures. But unlike “Clash” the creatures and the battles with them just aren’t that impressive. I still remember the extremely cool scorpion battle sequence and the fight with Medusa from “Clash”. There isn’t a single creature battle here that I’ll even remember a year from now.

It’s not that the creatures look bad. In fact, the CGI special effects are very well done. The creatures look amazing, feature fluid movements, and they blend in perfectly with the environments. The camera often times turns away or jerks at just the right moments to help the scenes look more realistic. The problem is the scenes aren’t choreographed that well. Another problem is that there really weren’t that many new creatures. Every creature in the film was shown in the trailers and I was disappointed that I wasn’t surprised with a few others. But the CGI is exceptional in creating some wonderful environments and landscapes. The group has to make their way through a rubik’s cube-like labyrinth that looks fantastic. Tartarus also looks great and I was really impressed by some of the sweeping overhead shots of some of the battle sequences.

While the story lacks a good introduction, some of the characters lack development. Neither Andromeda or Agenor are developed to the point of feeling like important characters. I think back to Perseus’ fellow journeymen from the first film. There were several of those characters that I liked despite their limited screen time. That’s not the case here. But the movie does ease up on the cheesy lines especially between gods. Ralph Fiennes is back as Hades and his conversations with Zeus as considerably less corny that before. Fiennes and Neeson are actually quite good and I did enjoy the powerless gods angle.

“Wrath of the Titans” does capture some of what I liked in the first film. It’s still a straightforward popcorn action picture that doesn’t try to be anything else. The story is simple but it still manages to provide some fun. The creatures look amazing even if their fight sequences aren’t as exciting as they should be. This Perseus is a kinder and gentler Perseus and in many ways this feels like a kinder and gentler movie. It has some nice eye candy and a few pretty cool moments but it lacks the kick and the grit of the first film. Even with its fun scenes and shiny coat of paint, I just can’t help but see “Wrath of the Titans” as a disappointment.