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Two Film Reviews: Clash of the Titans & Inception
Two movie reviews
CLASH OF THE TITANS **+ (Two and a half stars)
CLASH OF THE TITANS: The Kraken is re-released after almost 30 years in this tepid remake of the 1981 sword-and-sorcery cult favorite Clash of the Titans. The original film was a mediocre but well-loved epic, starring Laurence Oliver and Harry Hamlin, graced with stop-motion special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The remake covers much of the same ground but takes a number of turns away from the course of the original.
The film begins with men declaring war on the Gods of Olympus. The downtrodden humans have decided that the Gods are not running things to their satisfaction. They tear down a statue of Zeus and vow to battle the meddling deities. This, naturally, does not sit well with the real Zeus (Played by the very busy Liam Neeson) who feels betrayed by the humans he created. Zeus is persuaded by his bitter, scheming brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes, who seems to still be playing Lord Voldemort) to force the humans to remember their place, which is on their knees as far as Hades is concerned. Hades is put in charge of the Gods offensive against the mortals, and he wastes no time in racking up the casualties.
A unexpected hero arises in the form of Perseus (Sam Worthington), who is the adopted son of a kindly fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite). We learn that Perseus is the demi-God son of Zeus, who sired a son on one of his many deceitful visits in disguise into the bed of mortal women. Perseus' mother is killed when her husband Acrisius becomes enraged by his wife's supposed infidelity, which leads him to set mother and child adrift on the stormy sea to die. Mom does die but Perseus' half-God nature allowed him to survive until the fisherman found him. As for Acrisius, he is mutated by Zeus into the monstrous Calibos.
When Hades attacks humankind, Perseus' adopted family are among the first victims, making Perseus vehemently anti-God. He vows revenge against Hades. Circumstances bring him to the city of Argos, when he meets the royal family, including exotic princess Andromeda. (Alexa Davalos) When the royals insult the Gods, Hades appears and threatens to destroy the city unless the people of Argos show their dedication and supplication by sacrificing Andromeda to the Kraken on the coming lunar eclipse.
Perseus wants to strike back against the Gods and to find a way to destroy Hades. He gets some help from a beautiful mystic being named Io (Gemma Arterton) who has looked after him since birth like a guardian angel and now offers to help him on his quest for revenge. With some help from an honor guard supplied by the king of Argos, Perseus and his allies begin a quest to find a way to destroy the Kraken and Hades.
Along the way, Perseus and company meet witches, Djinns and Charon the ferryman of Hell. They battle giant scorpions, born from the blood of Calibos, who has been given great strength by Hades to act as his assassin. In one of the silliest scenes, the Djinn tame the giant scorpions to act as pack animals so the heroes can ride them.
The best sequences of the film is the battle with Medusa, who kicks some tail, using her own snake-like tail. She is a fabulous FX creation and her battle with Perseus and his warriors is a highlight.
The big finale, of course, is the long awaited arrival of the massive Kraken. Looking like a cross between the "Cloverfield" monster and the Rancor from "Return of the Jedi", the impressive monster makes an intimidating arrival, acting as Hades' ultimate weapon. Andromeda is offered to the monster like Fay Wray was offered to King Kong. Can Perseus stop the leviathan, or will Andromeda be sacrificed?
Like the 1981 version, the plot is a piecemeal affair, stabled together. There are numerous differences between the new and the original version, most notably the absence of a romance between Perseus and Andromeda. The love story between the hero and the princess was the heart of the first version, but not here. Perseus is motivated by revenge here, not love. Andromeda actually gets very little screen time in the remake. In her place, Io steps in as the new leading lady and love interest for Perseus.
Several plot elements of the original movie are shoe-horned into this film, more out of a desire to include as much of the 1981 film version as possible, rather than for any plot necessity. For instance, Pegasus, who pops into the film conveniently at certain points, but seems disconnected to the rest of the story. There is a funny moment that pays tribute (Or rather lampoons) the annoying owl Boo-bo from the first film.
Naturally, visual effects have evolved in the last 30 years and this film is visually very impressive. In theaters, it was converted to 3-D which was rather pointless because it wasn't designed to be a thrown-things-at-the-screen 3-D film. The performances are decent but none of them really stand out, not even from excellent actors like Neeson and Fiennes (Who last shared the screen in the Oscar winning drama "Schindler's List".) The monsters make the movie, especially Medusa and the Kraken, who are worth the price of admission alone.
INCEPTION **** (4 STARS)
INCEPTION: At a time when Hollywood is often justifiably criticized for it's lack of original ideas (relying on sequels, remakes and TV adaptations) and lack of courage regarding its unwillingness to experiment with unique, out-of-the-box, concepts; its refreshing to have a film come along that makes the attempt to be innovative and cerebral. It's not completely successful in doing so, but regardless of that, the attempt is laudable and the film is entertaining. Inception gets an A for effort.
Many will notice that Inception has quite a bit in common with the recent Shutter Island. (The same star; the way the film toys with the concept of reality), although the basic blueprint of Inception is a cross between Dreamscape (1984) and The Matrix Trilogy. It also has elements of a typical heist film, like Oceans 11, or an episode of the TV series "Leverage".If these elements sound irreconcilable with each other, be assured that they blend together seamlessly here, thanks to the director.
Although this is a very good film, it will get far more praise than it actually merits because it was written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Insomnia, the Prestige, Batman Begins) who is still riding highfrom his mega-success with the over-rated Dark Knight, and is still worshipped as the man who can do no wrong by many impressionable fans. But regardless of that, Nolan has put together a clever and well crafted bit of cinema.
Nolan has already played with reality and perception in his well regarded Momento (2000), which was a trial-run for this film. After the urban grittiness of his Batman films, this is a welcome return to more imaginative and conceptual subject matter.
The plot, which is being called by some "mind-bending" and "brain teasing" is actually fairly straight forward. Inception gives us a modern else-world, similar to our own, where the technology exists to enter into people's minds and extract information. Dream invasion has become the equivalent of identity theft.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the best in the thought-invasion field, hiring himself and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) out as thought-theft mercenaries, during a period of legal exile from his native United States. Cobb was forced to flee the US after being wrongly convicted of a crime, and seeks a way to expunge his record and return to his two children.
He gets his opportunity when he is hired my powerful Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Wananabe) to do a tricky reverse job--to put a thought into the mind of Saito's competitor Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) which will ruin Fischer. Saito promises Cobb that he has the clout to clear Cobb's name and reunite him with his kids. Cobb naturally agrees.
Cobb and Arthur begin recruiting their team which includes; forger and grifter Eames (Tom Hardy) who has mastered shape-shifting in dreams world and can therefore impersonate anyone in a dream; Yusef (Dileep Rao) a chemist who's job it is to keep the thought-invaders and their victim asleep for the exact amount of time and no longer; and young prodigy Ariadne (Ellen Page), a disciple of Cobb's father-in-law Miles (The great Michael Caine, who's screen presence is so big, he always seems to have a larger role than he really does) who originally taught the technique to Cobb.
Ellen's job is to be an "Architect". A dream Architect has the knack for creating a stable and detailed virtual reality inside someone's mind, which will act as the milieu for the mind-theft to take place. The manufactured dreamscape is also a mind-maze, where Cobb and his team can lurk and operate, until they are ready to extract or implant a thought. Ellen has unusually strong control over her world, and can twist her replica of the city of Paris, folding it in two like a beach chair.
It's Ellen who realizes that Cobb--who's job it is to mentally populate the dream cities with imaginary citizenry--is carrying a deep, distracting psychological burden which endangers the mission and the lives of the team. And who is the mysterious Mal (Marion Cotillard) who constantly pops up and sabotages Cobb's efforts? The answer to that is the emotional heart of the film, and the set-up for the ambiguous ending.
The special effects for Inception are top-notch, and unlike most films, every big-budget bit of visual magic has a purpose for the plot. There are no extraneous or gratuitous bits of FX here. Its all necessary. Strong performances by the heavyweight cast--DiCaprio, Wananabe, Page, Murphy, Caine, along with Pete Postelthwaite and Tom Berenger--make this more than just a film with a good gimmick. The A-list cast shines, even through the weaknesses in the script.
There two major flaws with Inception that keep it from being a masterpiece. One is that none of the characters except for Cobb have a story arc. Despite the excellent actors, the film is populated by undefined figures who exist to support Cobb's journey. The other problem is that Nolan gives into the usual temptation to turn the conclusion of the film into a frenetic action sequence, rather than trusting the story itself to engross the audience. (Is there some rule that every film must end in an action sequence?)
But despite these few flaws, and the fact that its cinematic inspirations are obvious, Inception is an overall excellent film experience. Bravo to anyone to tries to make a film which is not a cookie-cutter cliche. Inception is both innovative and entertaining.