Clash of the Titans was not an awful movie – or rather, wouldn’t have been if the 3D hadn’t been so bad – but it was no great fantasy-action flick, either. Wrath of the Titans may actually have less plot – less actual story – but it is superior in every way. In fact, it is a decent enough time-waster for a spring afternoon – it moves quickly, has glorious special effects, the CG effects have genuine heft and the 3D is quite wonderful.
Let’s keep this review short. I woke up one morning and much to my surprise Liam Neeson, of all people, has turned himself into quite a capable action hero. At his age, shouldn’t he be doing Romantic Comedies or Dramas? Not beating the snot out of people and running around crowded German Streets. Another thing I’m coming to realize is that any Country that I have an interest in visiting, I shouldn’t watch a Liam Neeson movie. He made me paranoid about going to Paris after watching the excellent Taken and now I have no desire to visit Germany.
Taken established Liam Neeson as an action hero with tremendous acting chops. The vastly superior Unknown confirms that he does, indeed have the goods.
We all know the story – even the shortest TV spot gives us the spine of it – the Alpha, or A-Team is set up whilst on a covert ops mission and court-martialed for a crime they didn’t commit, so they break out of prison to clear their names and nail the person[s] responsible for the frame. Sounds simple, probably because it is.
This is the part where I’d admit to being just a little bit ashamed [if I wasn’t so darned shameless]: The A-Team is bereft of anything even remotely approaching story or character development; it is nothing more than an excuse to brawl and shoot and blow stuff up real good; the pacing barely ever deviates from frenetic [and when it dials down, it only drops to furious] and, yes, the headline quote from former-Colonel Hannibal Smith [Liam Neeson] accurately describes the flick [and make no mistake, this a flick – not a film, not a movie – a flick]. And I enjoyed it.
I will say it once and I will say it again, Hollywood STOP–PLEASE STOP remaking the classic films we love and enjoy. You turned a cheesy cult classic from the year I was born and made it into a two hour snooze fest that no one would enjoy unless you have seen the original. The original 1981 classic is remembered for three distinctive things. It featured the stop-motion monsters of legendary puppeteer Ray Harryhausen. Second, it featured a ham performance of Sir Laurence Olivier. Finally, we get to see a pre-L.A. Law Harry Hamlin as Perseus. I can enjoy the original with just the magic and the myth with a hearty chuckle. Twenty-nine years later, this remake can only make me cringe.
Back in 1981 when the face of special effects were changed by the 1977 movie Star Wars and the introduction of digital animation, stop animation creator Ray Harryhausen decided it was time to do one last movie with his stop action animation process. He chose Clash of the Titans, the epic tale of Greek god vs. man, as that project. The movie starred Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus and Harry Hamlin as Zeus’ half-mortal son, Perseus. But the real star of that 1981 movie was Harryhausen’s incredible stop action animation process.
Now flash-forward 29 years and the face of special effects have changed even more radically as digital animation is combined with a stunning visual effect known as Real D technology. Real D is a technology that gives images on screen a richly textured three-dimensional look. It was Real D technology that was used in the 2009 remake of the horror movie My Bloody Valentine, which starred Jensen Ackles, to give the movie an ‘in your face’ feel to the gruesome scenes of mayhem. In the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, the Real D effect seems to only be there to give the movie’s sweeping scenery a more textured look and feel because it sure wasn’t used to give any ‘in your face’ feel to the few and far between action sequences of the movie.
Atom Egoyan is one of the most interesting directors around. Whether exploring the boundaries of the psychosexual thriller [the incredible Exotica] or the depths of despair [The Sweet Hereafter], his films are usually genuinely affecting and insightful. Chloe – a remake of the French film, Nathalie – returns to the realm of psychosexual thrillers, but seems somehow disconnected from its audience.
The worlds created by Japanese master animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki are wondrous places where a bus can be a giant cat; waves can be giant, fluid fish and goldfish can have human faces. They are worlds that can be as sophisticated as Citizen Kane, or as subtle as the gentlest child’s book. Ponyo, the first Miayzaki film to garner something approaching a wide release in North America, is a re-working of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid – and is far truer to the spirit of tale than the Disneyfied movie.
The Movie that makes me scared to go to Paris on my Birthday, Taken hits the streets next week – May 12th. When a former spy’s, Liam Neeson, estranged daughter is kidnapped in France, he sets out to find her at any cost. Relying on his special skills, he tracks down the ruthless gang that abducted her and launches a one-man war to bring them to justice and rescue his daughter. I loved this movie when I saw it in the theaters, should be even better on the Blu-ray. The Taken Extended Cut Blu-ray Disc (BD) is presented in widescreen format (2.40:01) with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound and Spanish/French Dolby Surround with English, French and Spanish subtitles. Loaded with action, suspense and excitement at every turn, the Taken Blu-ray Disc and DVD reveal an intense two-disc extended cut of the film with Digital Copy for portable media players. Additional bonus features include audio commentaries by the director, writer and cinematographers, exclusive behind-the-scenes “making of” featurette and action packed side-by-side comparisons. Taken will be available to own on Blu-ray Disc for $39.99 U.S. / $49.99 Canada, on two-disc DVD for $34.98 U.S. / $45.98 Canada, and on standard DVD for $29.98 U.S. / $43.48 Canada. Bonus features include:
A retired spy’s daughter is kidnapped to be sold as a sex slave [the slightly skeevey part]. The ex-spy hunts the men who kidnapped her. As premises go, this one is simple, direct and a bit odd to find in a PG-13 film – but we are talking about a Luc Besson production, so maybe it’s not really a surprise.
What is a surprise is that Taken, co-written by Besson [Leon, The Professional and The Fifth Element] and Robert Mark Kamen [The Karate Kid, The Transporter], and directed by Pierre Morel [District B13], is better than the premise suggests. This mostly because it takes a bit of time to establish that our protagonist, Bryan Mills [Liam Neeson] has retired because he wants to reconnect with his daughter, Kim [Maggie Grace]. We believe him because we see how disappointed he is when her mother, Lenore [Famke Janssen] and step-father, Stuart [Xander Berkley] upstage him at her birthday party [he brings her an expensive karaoke machine, but Stuart gives her a horse].
When she and her mother persuade him to sign a waiver allowing Kim to go to Paris, his warnings of danger fall on deaf ears and – sure enough – she and her friend are kidnapped. Then comes the phone conversation we saw in the trailer – followed by Mills taking action. Although Neeson is not a small guy, he does a good job of making himself seem ordinary as he begins tracking down the kidnappers, but once he swings into action, he becomes a force of nature.
Morel keeps the action up front and his pacing builds as Mills works himself up the chain of command – starting with the spotter who set up Kim and her friend. The usual ingredients of a Besson production are here – fights, chases, explosions – but because we buy into Mills as a father, there is a little more gravity, a little more at stake than usual.
Taken is entertaining but, ultimately, reliant on one performance. If you buy Neeson as Mills, then you’ll enjoy the movie. If not, you won’t. I did.
Final Grade: B-