Movie Reviews: Clash of the Titans, The Greatest, Don McKay, Warlords
CLASH OF THE TITANS A decade too old to convincingly be called "boy," Sam "Mr. Greenscreen" Worthington is badly cast as reluctant-demigod Perseus — as was Harry Hamlin in the '81 Clash of the Titans — but the appeal of sumptuous blockbuster Hellenism remains with the Gods (Liam Neeson as Zeus, Ralph Fiennes as Hades) and their miracles (3-D CGI replacing analog). This Clash provides frequent occasion for awe, as Perseus and company, men in rebellion against the tyranny of Olympus, embark on a tour of hodgepodge theme-park antiquity, rendered in button-by-button detail: I especially liked the warped ferry to Hades, with oarsman Charon replaced by an outboard motor. Transporter director Louis Leterrier is sure-footed when battling Gorgons and giant scorpions, but he muddles the comic-grotesque opportunity of the Stygian Witches. His shopworn "hearty camaraderie" scenes and LOTR helicopter sweeps over exotic terrain don't do much to sway one to the cause of humanity, and the hasty romance will make no heart palpitate. It's not surprising to learn that Clash was converted to 3-D as an afterthought; nothing onscreen justifies wearing dumb glasses — until a certifiably stunning climax, which has you barnstorming, on the back of Pegasus, above and through the streets of a Kraken-besieged city. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)
DON MCKAY A strange, largely inert indie thriller, Don McKay has good bones (inspired by Blood Simple, it has a solid cast and a strong pitch) but a terrible metabolism. Rigorously oblique in form and content, the writing and directing debut of Jake Goldberger follows the trials of the downtrodden title character, played by Thomas Haden Church, as he is pulled back to his hometown after 25 years. Don is summoned by his high school sweetheart, Sonny (Elisabeth Shue), who has made their reunion and marriage her dying wish, but from the cackling cabdriver who drops him off to Sonny's imperious nurse (Melissa Leo, barely recognizable and loving it) and reptilian doctor (James Rebhorn), Goldberger works hard to communicate that something is really off. Playing a janitor who has spent his adult life pining for Sonny, Church wears a look of dazed consternation throughout, and the wonky camera angles and non sequitur exchanges compound what becomes a tiresome impenetrability. There are moments of fine comic blackness — a body count begun early on is played for Coen-esque jollies, and Shue's flaky femme fatale has her moments — but the energetic revelation of the finale is too much of a relief for Don McKay to deliver it as a reward. (Michelle Orange) (AMC Burbank, Sunset 5)
THE GREATEST Hours after losing his virginity to Rose (Carey Mulligan), his dream girl, 18-year-old Bennett Brewer (Aaron Johnson) dies in a horrific car crash. Three months later, Rose knocks at the Brewer family's front door, pregnant with Bennett's baby and in need of a home. Allen Brewer (Pierce Brosnan), a mathematics professor, welcomes her, but his angry and withdrawn wife, Grace (Susan Sarandon), does not. First-time writer-director Shana Feste has made an uneven but often affecting film that requires its gifted cast to push hard against the script's schematic plotting to find moments of real emotion. A series of flashbacks to Bennett and Rose's courtship contains few words, but is rich in nuance and feeling, thanks to the quivering intensity of Johnson and Mulligan's chemistry, while a late-film confession by Bennett's younger, teen brother, beautifully played by Johnny Simmons, provides the film's emotional highlight. Clearly, Feste can write young people, but she has zero insight into married adults. A brave actor if not a technically dazzling one, Brosnan gives a moving performance, but he's constantly undercut by the predictability of Allen's woes and, sad to say, by the overly familiar tics of Sarandon, a sometimes great actor who seems, these days, to always play a grieving mother. Move on, Ms. Sarandon. Please. (Chuck Wilson) (ArcLight)
GO WARLORDS No less a man than Jet Li cries multiple times in The Warlords, an impressively gargantuan Chinese battle epic that generously accommodates director Peter Chan's proven talent for jerking tears (e.g., Comrades: Almost a Love Story). A quasi-remake of the Shaw bros.' 1973 hit The Blood Brothers, Chan's gory meller follows the tender bonding and tragic split of a trio of 19th-century bandits turned warlords. Yes, a "beautiful courtesan" (Xu Jinglei) is partly to blame. She nurses Li's battle-scarred General Pang back to health with soup and batted eyes despite being married to Er-Hu (Andy Lau), a gang leader who, along with sidekick Wu-Yang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), makes an ill-fated blood pact with Pang. An early bullets-versus-arrows skirmish stretches to almost half an hour, climaxing with a rather wicked decapitation. Then, power-hungry conqueror Pang, building an army of starving heroes, begins to set his sights on Suzhou City and Nanking! Chan's old-fashioned, highly watchable megaproduction comes complete with God's-eye surveys of mass carnage, the moist sounds of sword-skewering, and little or no discernible CGI. Pushing two hours (whereas the Chinese version runs slightly longer), the damn thing finally ends with a helluva knife fight — in the pouring rain, yet. Or are those heaven's tears? (Rob Nelson) (Nuart)
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