Wrath of the Titans

3 04 2012

If I rated movies based on visual effects alone, then Wrath of the Titans would get 5 stars out of 5.

Unfortunately, movies need a lot more than special effects to be entertaining, and Wrath of the Titans never concerns itself with things like character development, plot, or intelligent dialogue. Instead, it’s all about top-notch special effects and ridiculous Greek-on-god action. For some, that may not be a bad thing.

If you missed the first movie in the ‘Titans’ series (2010’s Clash of the Titans), then it’s easy to get caught up. Perseus (Sam Worthington) is the half-human, half-god son of Zeus (Liam Neeson). After slaying a kraken in the first film, he has chosen to settle down and enjoy life as a simple fisherman.

Zeus interrupts his son’s peaceful lifestyle when the legendary god Kronos starts trying to escape from his underworld dungeon. Hades and Ares have already switched allegiances and sided with Kronos, while Zeus, Poseidon, and Perseus are alone in their fight for humanity’s survival.

So no, if you were wondering, Wrath of the Titans is not based on a true story.

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Perseus and his friends dodge, duck, dip and dive their way through all sorts of perilous adventures, and Perseus should have been killed about three hundred different times by the time the credits roll. At one point, his head smashes through ten different stone pillars, after which he gets up and kills his assailant. I guess having strong bones is one of many benefits of being the son of Zeus.

The entire movie is about humans facing impossibly long odds. At one point, the characters travel through a labyrinth with “one million” different pathways to take. Along the way, they’re fighting gods who have Jedi-like abilities and are impervious to normal weapons.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because, as I mentioned above, it’s pretty forgettable. The most important thing the plot does is create situations where the film can show off some amazing special effects.

One of the visual highlights occurs when the characters travel to the island of Chaos, a dense coastal rainforest guarded by deadly booby traps and several frighteningly large Cyclopses. The creepiness of the forest comes to life, and watching massive, shadowy humanoid shapes approach out of the fog is eerie, to say the least.

Frequent readers of my column will know that I’m not a big fan of 3D. In most movies, it’s a frivolous addition that contributes little entertainment value to the film – and a lot of money to the pockets of film producers (I’m looking at you, Justin Bieber 3D).

Fortunately, Wrath of the Titans changed my opinion on 3D – at least for 99 minutes. It uses 3D in spectacular fashion, and seeing a Cyclops face burst out at the audience from behind a log is both chilling and exhilarating.

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Kronos, the legendary father of Zeus. Yes, they get to fight this thing.

The 3D technology works particularly well when exploring some of the fantastic environments constructed for the film – like the massive underground cavern of Tartarus or the impossibly complex labyrinth. The camera frequently zooms away from the characters to give the audience some perspective, and it’s easy to feel like you’re in an IMAX theatre as you fly through the worlds of Greek mythology.

Kronos, the legendary god imprisoned underground, caps off the special effects showcase. The final battle has him towering over a puny Greek army, throwing lava at anybody who stands in his path. Larger than a mountain, Kronos is a walking volcano, and he is truly terrifying to behold.

The visual effects are great, but everything else is below average. Even average action movies give you a reason to cheer for the protagonist, and that aspect was sorely lacking in this movie.

Wrath of the Titans earns 5 stars in the special effects department, but just 1 star for everything else. What does that average out to?

2.5 stars out of 5 





Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

3 01 2012

I’m not sure Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows succeeded in being the movie it was trying to be. At times, it’s a buddy comedy; at other times, it’s an action movie, or a whodunit.

Sherlock Holmes never really decides what it wants to be, and while it’s an average offering to each one of those genres, it doesn’t do much more than that.

The plot can be a little difficult to follow. Since it is set during the pre-World War I period, tensions are running high between the world powers. All it takes is one spark to start a war.

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As we now know, that spark would be the assassination of an Austro-Hungarian archduke. But Sherlock Holmes proposes an alternate reality. What would have happened if arms dealers tried to push the world towards war early?

Sherlock Holmes stumbles right into an extricate plot designed to do just that, and it’s up to him and his sidekick Dr. Watson to prevent it from happening.

This part of the plot is a plausible concept. However, it may be the most plausible thing in the movie. The action is pleasantly ridiculous and the characters find themselves in progressively crazier situations as the movie draws on.

Being realistic isn’t always a good thing, and A Game of Shadows knows that as well as any movie of its kind.

The many disguises of Sherlock Holmes provide a lot of this entertainment. At different times in the movie, he is dressed as a woman, a mustachioed professor, and, surprisingly, a chair.

The humour is cheap, and it may not be enjoyed by everyone, but the kids (and maybe a few adults) should get some good laughs out of it.

However, it is the action that ends up taking center stage. At the turn of the century, people were using all sorts of different weapons to fight each other, including swords, Gatling guns, pistols, and their own fists. All of these weapons are used to great effect in A Game of Shadows.

The action is rarely average, and it’s kept fresh through the use of a couple of different techniques. The first technique involves high-framerate, slow motion action sequences à la The Matrix and 300.

The second is a little more unique, and is used whenever Holmes needs to plan ahead. He rehearses the predicted movements of his enemy in his mind, and the audience gets to follow his train of thought as he visualizes beating the crap out of someone, or solving some intricate puzzle.

It’s a cheap little trick, but entertaining nonetheless.

Unfortunately, as a whole, A Game of Shadows not as entertaining as it could have been, and I think it would have been better had it been twenty minutes shorter.

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Review

That’s not to say the ending is bad. The ending is actually one of the best parts of the movie. However, I have a problem with some of the scenes in between.

Specifically, the scenes between action sequences are boring, confusing and unnecessarily drawn out. Meanwhile, the bantering between characters is lifeless and the jokes are predictable.

Ultimately, the humour is flat, and there are times when the plot proceeds a little too slowly, but the creative action sequences at least partly make up for these faults.

If you liked the first Sherlock Holmes movie, then this is more of the same. For some cheap action on a holiday night, you could certainly do worse.

2.5 stars out of 5





New Year’s Eve

17 12 2011

There’s something magical about New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, very little of that magic makes its way into New Year’s Eve, the movie. Filled with a ridiculous number of celebrities and twice that number of corny lines, New Year’s Eve falls far short of the mark that other classic holiday movies have set.

There are a few different storylines at play. Sarah Jessica Parker is inexplicably trying to prevent her daughter, Abigail Breslin, from enjoying an innocent night out with her friends, and a rock star, Jon Bon Jovi, competes for the attention of a chef, Katherine Heigl.

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Meanwhile, Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel are trying to make their baby the first one born in 2012, Robert De Niro is dying in a hospital, and Ashton Kutcher is trapped in an elevator with that girl from Glee (Lea Michele).

There are several other celebrities as well, but I need to get on with the review. I’m also not going to bother listing the names of the characters, because, let’s face it: with so many different celebrities running around, was anybody really paying attention to their names?

The storylines are hit and miss. Some of them – like Zac Efron’s promise to fulfill Michelle Pfeiffer’s list of resolutions before the night is up – are cute. Others seem pointless, and are so little developed that I wonder why they were included in the movie at all.

Why are there so many storylines? I guess the idea was to cater to every possible demographic. There’s a single mom, a young couple, a rebellious teenager, an attractive 20-something guy who likes to party, and an attractive 30-something guy who wants to settle down, among others.

Unfortunately, instead of being able to relate to any of the characters, I just had to laugh at some of the decisions they made. Why does Seth Meyers, a young graduate struggling with debt, give thousands of dollars to a middle-aged business owner? Why does Heigl suddenly decide that she likes Jon Bon Jovi?

And why, after treating her to a nice afternoon around New York City, does Efron loudly call Pfeiffer ‘pathetic’ while talking on the phone just a few feet away from her?

None of these decisions are explained, which makes New Year’s Eve a frustrating movie to watch.

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The idea is that, by the time the ball drops in Times Square, each storyline will have happily concluded. However, despite the movie’s promise to bring each character’s story together, the ending felt forced and silly.

The few high points of the movie – like Russell Peters’ hilarious Indian accent and the storyline between Efron and Pfeiffer, are criminally underdeveloped. With a little bit of tweaking, New Year’s Eve could have been at least slightly more enjoyable.

As far as Hallmark-type movies go, New Year’s Eve isn’t that bad. It’s not that good either. Despite having a star-studded cast and a nearly two-hour running time, it falls far short of its goal in nearly every category.

2 stars out of 5





Immortals

22 11 2011

Immortals is a lot like 300. It has ancient Greek warriors, fantastic action sequences, and intense visuals. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as fun to watch as that iconic movie, and Immortals ends up feeling like a bunch of senseless scenes strung together in order to showcase some beautiful visuals.

The plot sounds like something out of a Milton novel. After discovering that they were not actually immortal, the gods fought each other in a legendary war. The victors remained gods, while the losers became titans and were imprisoned inside the earth.

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The movie begins with a woman’s vision of somebody releasing these titans. Under normal circumstances, the gods cannot interfere in the affairs of men, and must watch from afar as men destroy each other with war. However, if the titans released, this no longer holds true. You can guess what happens next.

Much of the story is told from the point of view of a young thief (Henry Cavill), who watched his entire village burn and saw his mother killed in front of his eyes. The same woman who foresaw the release of the titans – the ‘Oracle’ (Freida Pinto) – believes that this man has been blessed by the gods.

For that reason, the fates of these two characters become inexorably linked. The plot gets progressively more fantastic from that point onward. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys a story featuring personified gods, magical bows, and assaults on massive, fortified cities, then Immortals may not be the movie for you.

Visuals are a strong point throughout. Like 300, Immortals has a graphic novel feel to it.  Many of the scenes are breathtakingly beautiful to look at, and the action sequences are a blast. Every battle is an excuse to show more cool action, and cities are built in the most ridiculous environments, like on a cliff thousands of feet above the frothing ocean.

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However striking the visuals may be, they do not make up for the convoluted, senseless plot and the silly dialogue. If you can follow everything that’s going on with the storyline, then you’ve done more than I have. As the action gets more chaotic, sense and logic seems to fly out the window.

One scene in particular demonstrates how ridiculous the action can be. During an assault on a city, a character fires a magical arrow at a wall, creating a hole through which thousands of men can attack.

However, once they’re through this hole, they find that the city’s defenders are standing in a narrow hallway, four abreast, to turn them back. Instead of avoiding this hallway, or firing another magical arrow at the wall, the men throw themselves by the thousands into this meat grinder, so to speak.

Moments like this show what Immortals is truly focused on: providing the epic battle sequences that, while being completely illogical, will still make you say ‘wow’. With plenty of delightful visuals and gory, chaotic action, Immortals is best when it sticks to its strengths.

2 stars out of 5





The Three Musketeers

2 11 2011

It’s been a while since the last Three Musketeers movie. If you’re unfamiliar with the source material, a trio of French swordsmen use their wits and fighting prowess to defeat their enemies.  Along the way, they attract beautiful women, like Milady (Milla Jovovich), and young copycats, like D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman).

These characters have been adapted into several films over the years. In this latest adaptation, fun, happy-go-lucky action takes the stage. However, instead of a thoughtful plot and clever action sequences, The Three Musketeers stumbles from one silly set piece to the next, and ends up feeling like one bad joke that went on for too long.

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The plot is mostly forgettable. It contains elements that you might find in any average action movie, like double agents, diamond thieves, and evil villains who talk with funny accents. You may not always be able to follow what’s going on, but thankfully, the plot isn’t the real heart of the movie.

Instead, the focus is squarely on ridiculous action. Featuring crazy contraptions like armored airships, the movie jumps from one special effects-laden shot to the next so frequently that it’s difficult to keep track of what the point of all this action is.

In general, these sequences look very cool, and feature some stunning technical wizardry. However, the green screen effect – where the actors are obviously standing against a computer generated backdrop – was a little too easy to spot in some scenes.

And, since the movie has a PG rating, the swordplay is innocent and the violence is stylized. There is nary a drop of blood to be seen, and it ends up having a Pirates of the Caribbean feel (and not just because Orlando Bloom is in it.)

Much like that classic movie, every scene is injected with a unique sense of style and humor, and it’s clear that the director, Paul Anderson, put a lot of work into finding the right fit for the outlandish plot and characters.

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King Louis XIII, the teenaged ruler of France, is particularly entertaining to watch. In an effort to compete with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom), he dresses in ridiculous clothing, like a purple, flowery pointed hat, which he genuinely believes is in fashion at the time. Ultimately, moments like this give the impression that The Three Musketeers never takes itself too seriously.

With all its crazy action and over-the-top characters, The Three Musketeers works best as a kid’s action movie, and offers limited entertainment outside of that. The few highlights – like entertaining swordfights and colorful sets – are drowned out by the bland plot and predictable action sequences.

I wanted a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, The Three Musketeers is not nearly as witty, entertaining, or ambitious as that classic. While the special effects are entertaining, this movie is all glitz and no substance.

2 stars out of 5





The Thing

18 10 2011

Having never seen the original version, I wasn’t sure what to expect heading into 2011’s remake of The Thing. What I found was an entertaining thriller that, while short on emotion, is filled with enough action to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

If you haven’t already seen it, the trailer reveals the movie’s central premise: scientists at a research base in Antarctica have found a strange extraterrestrial spaceship frozen in the ice. After a little bit of digging, they discover a ‘dead’ alien nearby.

After the scientists drill into the alien to take a tissue sample, it comes back to life. Since the alien is (understandably) angry, it takes out its anger by disguising itself as the human scientists. The rest of the movie plays out as a game of cat and mouse: the scientists need to determine which members of their group are aliens before it can infect them all.

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The psychological aspects of this plot are entertaining to watch. How will the scientists determine which characters are definitely not an alien, and which ones could be? What should they do with any potential aliens? How can you trust anybody around you?

While trying to answer these questions, the scientists are faced with a torrent of violent action. Flamethrowers are drawn, pistols are waved around, and the lives of characters are ruthlessly cut short. Featuring loud noises and lots of fire and explosions, these action sequences take up most of the latter half of the movie.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie’s depth ends. The characters are flat, and we never learn much – or care – about any of them. Any relationship development between the scientists is quickly suppressed, and there is more frantic screaming than quality dialogue throughout the entire movie.

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And, while the special effects are magnificently done, I’m not sure they accomplished what the movie was hoping for. With blood and guts flying around at an alarming rate, these effects felt more disgusting than frightening.

Ultimately, The Thing never seems to decide if it wants to be a horror movie or an action flick. The scary jumps that we do experience are easy to predict, and it seems like the director is consciously willing to avoid exploiting the creepiness potential in every scene.

While it was advertised as a horror movie, The Thing has more intense action than nail-biting suspense. However, that doesn’t take away from the entertainment value. If you don’t care about being emotionally involved in the plot, and just want to see some thrilling special effects and psychological games, then The Thing might be just the movie you’re looking for.

2 stars out of 5





Colombiana

30 08 2011

Somewhere inside Colombiana, there is a good movie to be found. However, the movie that I saw this weekend was not it. While it tries hard to entertain the audience, it never even comes close to living up to its full potential.

The most important thing you need to know about Colombiana is that very little of it makes sense. Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), watched her mother and father get murdered in front of her eyes in Colombia. Her father was a drug lord, and made some very powerful people angry.

Improbably, Cataleya then travels to Chicago, where she finds her uncle, who is also involved in the drug trade. In an even more extraordinary turn of fate, she tells her uncle that she wants to learn how to kill people instead of going to elementary school. Just like any good uncle, he tells her that he would be happy to train her.

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Then, to demonstrate how willing he is to train her in the art of assassination, he pulls out a gun on a crowded Chicago street, empties a round of bullets into a randomly passing car, and then asks her if she really wants to follow through with it. Despite there being hundreds of witnesses, Cataleya and her uncle walk away without being stopped by the police. How does that work?

After that, things get progressively crazier – in a bad way. The movie is riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies, and there were many moments when I had to ask the characters, “Why aren’t you thinking like a normal person?”

In one scene, for example, Cataleya has to murder a criminal who is being held at her local police station. To do this, she gets herself arrested. Then, once she is in her cell inside of the police station, she crawls through a conveniently placed vent system that is large enough for her to crawl through (who knew they had accessible vents inside of each and every prison cell?). Then, she kills her target with a pistol and returns to her cell before anybody notices that something is wrong.

And, somehow, the entire camera system inside of the police station did not capture a single frame of Cataleya crawling around, even though we see a camera pointing at the very spot that Cataleya walked through. In a movie that is largely about the skill of an assassin, I would prefer for it to be based on ingenious stunts and trickery, as opposed to silly plot holes and conveniently placed objects.

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There are a few things to like about Colombiana, and they deserve to be mentioned. Zoe Saldana acts well. And, if it weren’t for the horrible writing, her character would be much more entertaining to watch. Some of the action sequences are also cool, but they are few and far between.

There are a lot of bad movies that have the potential to be great. Colombiana is certainly one of them. The idea of a beautiful female assassin prowling the streets of Chicago, taking out her vengeance on wrongdoers is intriguing. Unfortunately, neither the production value nor the dialogue is there to flesh out this idea.

As it stands, the most entertaining part of the movie for many people will be watching Zoe Saldana crawl around in a skin-tight bodysuit. While this isn’t a bad thing, it certainly will not keep anybody entertained for the movie’s two hour duration. For that reason, Colombiana ends up feeling like one big chaotic mess.

2 stars out of 5