Sea Monster Quest (Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters, 2013)

Perecy_Jackson_Sea_of_Monsters_PosterSea of Monsters leaves behind a lot of the characters from the original.  And several of the actors.  Lerman, Daddario and Jackson are back. Replacing Pierce Brosnan in the role of centaur Chiron is Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  This is actually a decent fit, as Head is capable of both intensity and scholarly attitude.

Opening with the story of how four children were running to Camp Halfblood long ago, all but one making it.  Thalia, daughter of Zeus sacrifices herself.  Zeus causes her to grow into a tree that creates a barrier that protects the camp.

Decades later, Percy is a minor celebrity for saving Olympus, but he is facing competition from Ares’ daughter Clarisse. She has been racking up quest, while Percy has…well, he saved Olympus. Everyone is surprised by the arrival of Tyson, who claims to be a child of Poseidon. He is not, however, half human, rather he is half dryad, which results in him being a cyclops.

The camp is startled when a large mechanical bull breaks through the barrier and starts to tear up the camp. Percy and friends discover that the Thalia Tree has been poisoned.  They decide it calls for a quest to find the Golden Fleece, which could heal the tree. Clarisse strikes out on her own, while Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson go on the run.

What they also find is that they are in competition with Luke yet again. This time, he seeks to resurrect his grandfather Kronos and bring about the destruction of the world. So, the stakes are not high or anything. The kids encounter sea monsters, cyclops and oracles as they seek to stop the end of the world.

There are some things that this film does better than the last.  We only meet a couple of gods, but Stanley Tucci has droll fun with Mr. D (“D” for Dionysus).  He is cursed by Zeus to be unable to consume wine (cause, he is, among other things, the god of wine making, so…ironic!).  When he pours wine, it becomes water.  He tells Chiron, “You know, the Christians have a guy who can do that in reverse.  Now that’s a god!” This film suggests there are more than just the Greek Pantheon of Gods, but it is unclear how it all works out, and the film is unconcerned by it.

Nathan Fillion appears as Hermes in a rather fun performance that plays to his charms.  The story’s updates to classical characters are far more effective this time around.  The Gray sisters (prophetic witches who share a single eye), are reckless cab drivers. Polyphemus the cyclops…well, he is a cyclops.  But he lives under an amusement park.  And Hermes runs a UPS/Fed Ex style delivery service.

The film tries to build tension with Annabeth unable to trust Tyson because he is a cyclops.  But Tyson is such a sweet kid, it is a hard sell.  The film also tries to give a feel like everyone rallies behind Percy.  And they do, but it is entirely unconvincing as to why Clarisse so quickly abandons her chip.

The cgi in the film ranges from middling to video game cut scene level.

Sea of Monsters is not a terrible follow up, and it does do some things better than the first. But what we have is something mildly enjoyable if you are bored one evening and usnure of what to do with your night.

It Runs In the Family (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: the Lightning Thief, 2010)

Percy_Jackson_Lightning_Thief_PosterStudios are always on the hunt for their franchises.  And Harry Potter had everyone convinced they knew the formula. And so 20th Century Fox brought in Chris Columbus, director of the first two Harry Potter films to adapt the Percy Jackson and the Olympians by young author Rick Riordan.

Percy Jackson has lived his life with his mother and a terrible step-father.  His only solace is swimming and his friend Grover. He struggles with dyslexia and is easily distracted.  One day on a school trip he makes a rather startling discovery.  He is the son of Poseidon, the Greek God of the Sea. Grover turns out to be a satyr and his protector and takes Percy and his mother to a place where Percy will be safe.  See, it turns out that everyone in Mythdom believes Percy has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt.  And so everyone is trying to get it from him to start a war.

A minotaur interferes with their attempt to reach Camp Halfblood.  While Percy and Grover make it, his mother is taken by Hades.  Along with Grover and Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, Percy goes on a quest to free his mother from Hades.

The film draws from various Greek stories, bringing Percy against the Hydra, Medusa, and the underworld.  It is filled pretty richly with creatures of myths like Centaurs and furies.

The first two Harry Potter films were faithful to the source to the point of near detriments, but on the other hand the casting of the instructors was downright inspired. Now, I have not read the books, so I am not sure how closely the films follow their inspirations.  But while the cast is good, there are really no…”That person now defines how I would see them in any incarnation”.  Again, the cast is good.  You have Sean Bean, Joe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman, Catherine Keener, Rosario Dawson, and Pierce Brosnan in your supporting cast. And really, Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario connect well as a team.

A lot of the creature designs are pretty good.  Some, are hampered by being very obvious digital monsters.  And honestly, the film makes the same flaw in their choice for Medusa as the Clash of the Titans remake…she is to seductive looking.

However, there are some inspired moments, for example, the hydra begins as five men who combine into the beast.

The Lightning Thief has an interesting enough idea at it’s core that I did find the film to be fairly entertaining.  Not a classic or must see, of course, but it is certainly passable light entertainment.

You Gotta Go

It is a very common movie tactic to have the couple whose relationship has collapsed.  One has moved on, and one, usually our main character, has not.  They are frustrated, even bitter, about how things have turned out.  But it really about regrets.  They still love their ex and would be back with them in a flash.  But of course, the person who moved on is now in a relationship.  And so screenwriters have a problem…how to get the person out of the way before the stories end.  And outside of romantic comedies, the solution can often be…um..drastic.

I am about to spoil the crap out of the movie San Andreas.

In San Andreas, Dwayne Johnson’s Ray Gaines and his wife fell apart after the death of one of their daughters.  This has led to Carla Cugino’s Emma having moved on with Ioan Gruffudd’s Daniel Riddick.  And of course, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is caught in between.  You know that the film wants to get Ray and Emma back together.  But they do not have time for the two to have a mature discussion and then an amicable breakup with Daniel.  Instead, the film knows what must be done.  Daniel must die.

This happens repeatedly in films.  Bait.  2012. The Fate of the Furious (sort of).  This is a quick and easy way to resolve the problem.  Now, in some cases, such as Bait, the person killed gets to be heroic.  Which, I guess is nice.

But it is just as likely to be rather unceremonious.  In the aforementioned San Andreas, Daniel is with Blake when a massive earthquake collapses a beam on their car.  Blake is trapped and Daniel promises he will get help.  Except, he basically runs off screaming.  In fact, Daniel is repeatedly shown to be cruel and cowardly right up until his death.  Up until the point he leaves Blake, he had come across as a pretty decent and nice guy.  He was kind to Blake and was clearly into having a good relationship with Emma.

But here is the thing.  He is a romantic rival.  And he is physically positioned in an opposition to the Rock.  While Johnson is large and muscular, Gruffudd is a slighter frame.  He works in an office, he is not physically imposing or tough.  And this is kind of coded to suggest he is a weak opposition who needs to be swept aside.  Making him a vile coward who leaves her daughter to die, while she rushes to find Blake with Ray allows for her to first be angry and then forget about Daniel entirely.

This type of flourish tends to be unnecessary.  In the case of San Andreas, you could have made a far better dramatic moment of Daniel running to the door, calling for help and the  Ben and Ollie characters seeing him.  They race to the door and Daniel returns to the car to start trying to get Blake out.  Daniel, Ben, and Ollie work to get Blake’s leg’s free.  As they are getting her out, Daniel realizes that for her to successfully get free, he will have to stay in a position that will result in his death.  Saving Blake is what he sees as important, and to the horror of the other three, Daniel allows himself to be crushed for their survival.

The fact is, none of Daniel’s later scenes add anything to the film.  So you do not lose anything.  And he is an entirely unnecessary villain.  Natural Disaster stories do not inherently require a human villain.

It seems like the main reason such choices are made are that a romantic rival is made to be not just an impediment to the hero’s romantic situation, but a threat to (most often) their masculinity.  And this is where things get to be troubling.  The need to make a villain out of the rival to the extent that they are a legit villain before they are killed is a troubling attitude to perpetuate.  Killing off a character to make a romatic connection happen is pretty lazy story telling.

Back to the Beach (Baywatch, 2017)

Baywatch_PosterHonestly, of all the “Drama TV Show Made as a Comedy Movie” options?  Baywatch seemed like the best option.  Even at its most earnest (and Baywatch saw itself as a serious adventure drama), it was pretty hilarious.

So, opting to go the route of comedy, made sense.  I would have not given Baywatch a chance, were it not for some of its casting choices.  Most specifically Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario.

One of the weirdest things to me about the original show was it apparently had a 65% female viewership.  A show known for slow motion shots of Pam Anderson (and a series of Playboy Playmates that followed her) had a large female audience.  Maybe it was David Hasselhoff?  So, just how well does the Baywatch movie translate?

The short answer would be “Okay”.  The whole cast is pretty good and clearly get their roles.  The film opens with beautiful beach shots leading up to a big rescue by Mitch Buchanon (Johnson), leaping into the ocean to save an unconscious swimmer.  The guy asks Mitch if he is Batman, and Mitch replies, “Sure am…just browner.”  We see Mitch is rather beloved, one guy making daily sand sculptures of Mitch because he saved the life of the guy’s sister.

We are introduced quickly to the rest of the cast.  Ronnie is an aspiring lifeguard with a massive crush on gorgeous C.J.  A running gag is how flustered he gets around her and uh…an enthusiastic response in his pants.  Summer (Daddario) is another aspiring lifeguard who catches the attention of Matt Brody, an infamous gold medalist swimmer who joins the crew for community service.  Stephanie is Mitch’s second in command.

The central plot is the discovery of drugs on the beach, leading to the team’s efforts to expose a drug ring.  The plot is very simple but overly easy to sustain as the story hits the typical beats as many stumbling blocks impede their investigation.  Primarily, they are not cops.

The humor and language are more ‘R’ rated than the original show, though only one sequence goes overboard.  There is a sequence in the morgue that goes for gross out humor that oddly enough feels a bit out of place.  A lot of the humor is based in poking fun at the source material.  At one point, everyone is throwing crime scenarios at Brody.  He is arguing that they should be going to the police, rather than solve the case themselves.  He points out that the scenarios all sound like some unrealistic TV show.  I am pretty sure these scenarios all were from the original series.

There is a moment when Summer and Ronnie are discussing how C.J. seems to move in slow motion.  And here is where it gets to be a fine line.  Because if you are poking fun at the show’s “jiggle” factor?  You really run the risk of perpetuating it.  This cast is all attractive, and especially the women.  We are treated to all the women in sexy swimsuits, sexy gowns, sexy…well, you get the point.Of the central cast? The only average looking characters are guys.  I am a bit torn on the Ronnie and C.J. plot line.  It is a pretty tired “Average Guy and Hot Girl” scenario.  On the other hand, both characters are likable and the relationship develops somewhat organically.

The jokes tend to be hit or miss, though there are a fair number of good laugh moments.  The action sequences are actually quite nicely done and look great.  There are some awesome underwater shots.

In the end, though, what works best in the film is its ensemble cast.  They all have a certain charm that carries the film in a way the plot and humor do not.  Like I said, Baywatch is okay and even enjoyable.  But it never gets above its source material enough to feel fresh.

Let’s Visit Texas Part 7 (Texas Chainsaw 3D, 2013)

texas_chainsaw_3d_posterPicking right up where the original film ended, Texas Chainsaw opens with a recap of the original Massacre.  This is one of the best parts of the film as the remastering on the original film’s footage is really nice.  The film starts it’s own story with the town sheriff driving out to the Sawyer clan’s house.  He confronts the family, but a lynch mob shows up.  A fire is started and the mob celebrates the Sawyer family demise.  One of the mob discovers a mother and her baby, he kills the mother and he and his wife raise the baby as their own, naming her Heather.

40 years later, Heather is about 24 years old.  Yes, the film starts in 1974 and picks up in 2012.  Yes the young woman is clearly in her twenties.


Anyways, Heather gets a special delivery package telling her that her biological mother has died.  Her friends pack up a van (what is it the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and vans?) and head down to Texas for her inheritance.  She finds out she has inherited a very large house.  She also finds that her grandmother was not particularly liked by the local townsfolk…what with her being related to the Sawyer clan and all.  The mob ringleader Burt is now the mayor, and he offers to buy the property.  Heather politely declines.  While partying at the mansion, Heather’s friends start getting picked off by Leatherface (who apparently ages at the same rate as Heather).  She manages to reach town, which alerts Burt and the others that Leatherface is not dad as previously assumed.  And this is when Heather discovers that the townsfolk are as much a threat to her as Leatherface.

And herein lies the biggest problem film.  It makes Leatherface more sympathetic and less of a villain than other characters in the film.  He is more sympathetic than Burt and his cronies, to the point that the Sheriff refuses to interfere when Leatherface gets the upper hand.  Heather takes him home and takes the role of caretaker for Leatherface.

It is a visually nice film, but the characters are paper thin archetypes.  The continuity is pretty shoddy.  Where did all the Sawyer family members come from at the beginning?  It is not really clear.  How is Heather not nearly 40 in the film?  Why doesn’t Leatherface know Heather is coming?  I mean, aside from it makes more sense when he initially tries to kill her.  Texas Chainsaw is a very weak film (though the 3D works pretty well).  Sure, it is better than Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III or the abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.  But that is not saying a lot.

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