A Time For Grief, A Time for Theft (Widows, 2018)

Widows_PosterVeronica, Linda and Alice have lost their husbands in a tragedy. They discover their husbands were professional thieves. To add to their grief, they find their lives under siege, specifically from Jamal Manning.  While he is running for public office, Manning is also a local crime lord…and it so happen’s the women’s husbands died stealing from him.  He wants his money and gives them a month.

When she discovers her husband’s records of all her heists, Veronica brings the other widows together to try and complete the next heist that her husband had planned.

Widows is one of those movies that you don’t really get prepared for from the trailers.  Most Heist films are heavily focused on the planning and the heist. Widows is more interested in setting up its characters.  Everyone feels important.  We walk with them as their lives intersect. This is to the film’s benefit.  We get to really know everyone involved, both the heroes and villains of the tale.

Viola Davis gives a great performance as Veronica.  She is both vulnerable and tough as nails.  Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall play son and father of a political dynasty that are at each other throats.  Daniel Kaluuya is riveting and immensely terrifying as Manning’s right hand man.

Director Steve McQueen makes some bold choices in the film (one sequence takes place within a car, and we only hear the actors as the camera stays outside, as the focuses on the car itself). The end result is a very compelling character film that happens to feature a heist.  Managing some excellent surprises before it ends, I found Widows a very satisfying watch.

To Save a Life (Silence, 2016)

Silence_PosterMartin Scorsese is most known for his gritty portrayals of the American underworld. But something that has often come up in his career is references to his Catholicism.  This comes to life in Silence, the story of two seventeen century Catholic Missionaries who go to Japan to find their missing mentor.  There are reports he has apostatized, which the two young men reject.  They see it as impossible that the man that trained them in faith would reject that same faith himself.

They get help entering Japan from a tormented soul who turns is a Christian who denied his faith to save his life, while the rest of his village refused to renounce and were burned alive. He introduces them to Japanese Christians, which begins their  harrowing experience.  The film focuses heavily on Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) trying to hold on to his faith as he is tormented by the Inquisitor who is dedicated to convincing Rodrigues to renounce his faith and convictions.

What makes this story so harrowing is the brutality of the torture.  For Rodrigues, it is entirely psychological. The Inquisitor uses the suffering of others to try and drive the wedge between Rodrigues and his Christ.

Silence is a powerful and tremendous film.  The sound design largely eschews music, with the exceptions of Christians singing and music played by the Inquisitor’s people. Otherwise, it is the sounds of nature that envelope the viewer’s ears.

Garfield and Driver are compelling in their performances, and of course Liam Neeson brings his trademark calm as the missing Ferreira.  Issei Ogata is strangely both cruelly wicked and almost like a kindly grandparent.  It is a testament to his performance that I could not totally hate the character. Yôsuke Kubozuka role as the troubled Kichijiro is such a frustrating and heartbreaking performance. Tadanobu Asano’s Interpreter is one who almost can convince you that the choice to apostatize is the only right choice.  You almost believe his pleading with Rodrigues is out of heartfelt sympathy to save lives.

Scorsese’s Silence is a gut wrenching exploration of faith in the face of tribulation.

Nothing But Star Wars Episode One (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, 1999)

Phantom_Menace_PosterAs previously noted, people were pretty resigned to Star Wars remaining a trilogy of parts four through six.  Then it was announced, Lucas had decided episodes one through three could finally be made.  He stated that the technology had reached a point that he could truly make the stories he desired to tell.

The geek net was still in it’s infancy in a lot of ways, but it was set ablaze with rumors and claims of leaked scripts and insider knowledge.

A lot of those rumors turned out to be false…but in May of 1999 we got the long hoped for return to a galaxy far, far away…

 

And now, the standard warning of the spoilers…endless spoilers!

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Opening in space (of course) we meet two Jedi Knights on an exciting diplomatic mission with a trade…federation…aw crap. Our Jedi are Qui-Gon Jin and a young Obi Wan Kenobi.  Kenobi is a padawan, a Jedi-in-Training. As they wait for Trade Federation diplomats to enter, they are instead greeted with poison gas.  They fight their way through droids to try and get to the bridge to confront the Trade Federation, but are forced to run.  They hitch a ride on troop transports down to the planet of Naboo.

Knowing they must warn the government of Naboo, they try and find a way to the main city population. They run into a local, a giant amphibious creature who speaks with a weird variation of an Jamaican Accent (The Trade Federation is run by a guys with distinctly Asian Accents…this ends up being a recurring issue of accents that seem connected to negative traits) named Jar Jar Binks.

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Jar Jar takes the Jedi to an underwater city with more of his race.  There they find out Jar Jar was banished for being clumsy.  Really.  Qui-Gon convinces the Gungan leader Boss Nass (who looks suspiciously like Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard) to give them a ship and Jar Jar.  The ship gets them to the capital, where they save Queen Amidala and a small band of her guards .

As they escape the planet the ship is damaged.  They land on the planet Tatooine.  While there, Qui-Gon, Padme (an attendant to the queen) and Jar Jar happen across a junk dealer and his boy slave, Anakin.  Anakin makes an impression on Qui-Gon who he senses is strong in the force.  Due to an impending sand storm, Anakin offers them shelter with he and his mother.   The boy of about nine gets a crush on Padme while Qui-Gon questions his mother about their lineage. She notes that there was no father, but rather it was a spontaneous pregnancy.  You know, like Jesus.

Meanwhile, on the Planet Corsucant, the Senate is debating how best to deal with the Naboo situation.  Unknown to everyone, Senator Palpatine is pushing for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Velorum.  He is manipulating people to nominate him as replacement.  His motives are shrouded in darkness, but we know he is a Sith Lord and he has an agent, his apprentice Darth Maul.

Darth Maul is on the hunt for the missing Princess and Jedi. Qui-Gon makes a bet with the owner of Anakin for the parts needed to fix their ship.  He also makes a side bet for Anakin’s freedom.  The bet revolves around one of the film’s best sequences. Anakin is a pod racer and if he wins, Qui-Gon can take both the ship parts and Anakin with him.

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The Pod race is a pretty thrilling sequence and plays like “space NASCAR”. The primary story purpose of this scene is to establish his piloting skills. This relates back to a New Hope when Ben explains that when he first met Anakin, he was an accomplished pilot. Phantom Menace kind of creates a problem, in that Anakin is a nine year old kid.  There is not really any doubt when listening to the dialog in a New Hope Anakin would likely have been very late teens or even early twenties.  But Lucas wanted to make a statement on meeting Vader as a boy.

Anakin wins his freedom and joins Qui-Gon and Padme on their ship.  As they are leaving, Darth Maul appears and Qui-Gon has a lightsaber duel. Qui-Gon jumps onto the ship and leaves Maul behind.  They arrive at Corsucant, where Qui-Gon warns of Maul and presents young Anakin, who he believes could be the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Force, to the Jedi Council. The Council is far more hesitant, believing that Anakin has lived to long without proper Jedi training.

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This actually makes no sense when we look to what the series had presented us with.  Beings gifted in the use of the Force have access to it regardless, would not trainig, no matter their age be good?

Admittedly, the Jedi Council seems to be a rather ineffective group.  They often seem to want to take a hands off approach, showing that, maybe, the legend of the Jedi as magical and wise space knights may be…a bit fictitious.

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Phantom_Menace_Jedi_CouncilQui-Gon states he will take on Anakin’s training himself, in spite of already having a padawan. They take the Princess back to Naboo in a plan to fight back against the Trade Federation. They recruit the Gungan’s for the fight.  They need to take out the space station of the Federation, which will render their battle droids useless.  It is revealed that Padme is actually Princess Amidala and the girl we thought was the Princess was actually a decoy.

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The Naboo pilots take back some ships and head out to destroy the main Trade Federation ship, while Anakin is told to stay put hiding in a ship.  The ship conveniently goes to autopilot and takes him straight into battle.

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Qui-Gon and Obi Wan are confronted by Darth Maul.  During their fight, Maul impales Qui-Gon.  Angrily, Kenobi charges in and manages to slice Maul in half. Meanwhile, R2 (who is co-piloting the ship Anakin is in) turns off auto-pilot.  Anakin tries to get turned around, and in doing so, manages to blow up the command ship, disabling the droid on the planet surface.

Kenobi promises to train Anakin in accordance with Qui-Gon’s wishes. Then, there is an awards ceremony in a reflection of the end of Episode Four.

Honestly, of all the Star Wars films, I probably find this one the most frustrating.  It introduces something call midichlorians. They are the microscopic sentient life forms in all bodies that indicate how perceptive one is to the force.  This allowed there to be a scientific test.  Qui-Gon explains that Anakin is “off the charts”.  But truthfully, the original trilogy stayed firmly in the world of the Force being a form of mysticism.  It seems weirder to have a scientific explanation, even as just an indicator.  In spite of this film being the first mention, they do apparently date back to about 1977 in stuff Lucas wrote up for the expanded universe material.

Add to that, Lucas still uses mysticism like Prophecy.  Ben never mentions any prophecy in the original films, though the extended universe was apparently full of them.

Anakin is made out to be a boy genius.  Both C-3PO and R2-D2 are in the film, with R2 being introduced as a service droid on Amidala’s space ship.  But 3PO is used to show how mechanically inclined Anakin is by revealing that 3PO was built by Anakin.  This is one of those rather silly additions that does not have the intended effect.

Having Anakin blow up the Trade Federation ship purely by dumb luck is not a good choice, either.  As noted earlier, Ben certainly suggests to Luke that Anakin was a gifted pilot.  It diminishes Anakin to have him stumble into success as a kid.  The idea, I suspect, was to sell just how powerfully Force Sensitive he was.  It just makes him seem lucky.  And this is really a simple solution.  Had they cast Anakin as a young man, he parallels Luke. The idea that he is skilled as a pilot does not need as much proof.  Anakin never needed to be a child prodigy.

The choice to kill Darth Maul is another stumble.  Darth Maul, for one thing, has a terrific design. He is automatically imposing with his red skin and facial tattoos. He has a cool double lightsaber.

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It would have been a much better plot device to play him up as the Darth Vader of the series. He is the big bad guy who makes it until the end…as Darth Sidious begins grooming Anakin he subtly plays them against each other. Finally, in the third film, Anakin and Maul are in a pitch battle.  Anakin has him against the ropes and then, in a dramatic moment, Sidious startles Maul by commanding Anakin to kill him.  In that moment, Maul realizes Anakin is going to replace him.

Another thing the film establishes is the Jedi Gear.  In Return of the Jedi, Luke wears that slick black outfit. According to Lucas, this was proper Jedi attire.  Ben wore the robes not because that was a Jedi outfit.  He was hiding out as a desert hermit.  The Phantom Menace, instead, establishes that he was just wearing his Jedi robes.

Frustratingly, with the Phantom Menace, there is not a ton that I find enjoyable.  The Pod Racing scene is terrific stuff.  It is an exciting roller coaster ride.  And the lightsaber duel with Qui-Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul is great stuff as well.  But the rest of the film feels like it was bogged down in fan service that never actually serves the story.

Narnia Quest Part 3 (Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010)

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Picking back up World War 2, Peter and Susan are with their father in America.  Lucy and Edmund, on the other hand, are stuck with their unpleasant cousin Eustace.  He is a remarkably anti-social kid.  One afternoon he breaks in on a conversation between Lucy and Edmund.  Lucy notices that a painting on the wall of a ship at sea seems to be moving. As Eustace berates them, water starts to poor from the frame of the painting, filling the room.  Suddenly, the children are afloat in the ocean and picked up by a passing ship.

The ship is the Dawn Treader, captained by Prince Caspian. On the ship, Lucy and Edmund are thrilled to see Caspian, Reepicheep and other Narnians.  Eustice is more…stupefied. Especially by things like a giant talking mouse. Who has a sword. Caspian explains that they are on a mission to find the missing seven Lords that were driven into exile by Lord Protector Miraz.  Reepicheep has a separate mission to reach the end of the world and enter Aslan’s land.

The journey brings them to various islands with a variety of obstacles.  Eventually, they find the dark island in their hopes to vanquish a dark force that is attacking Narnians.

This last part is a bit more confusing.  There is the addition of a Green Mist that is not in the books.  It appears to steal Narnian citizens and taken them from beyond the reach of Caspian. The film departs a lot from the book, changing character motivations and emphasizing others.

Disney was not involved in this film, instead, Walden Media teamed with 20th Century Fox for this installment.  The Narnia films have struggled, in part, from inconsistent releasing.  The first film came out in 2005, the second in 2008 and then this film in 2010. Compare this to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, which were consistently a year apart.  Or the Harry Potter films, which had a fairly consistent schedule of every two years.  We are seeing Star Wars films already on a regular yearly schedule. Three films in five years easily disrupts momentum that trying to pull off an adaption like this needs.  Especially when Narnia does not have a variety of other outlets to be kept in the front of people’s minds.

And if the films had been ridiculously high quality, one might forgive the inconsistencies.  But there is the problem.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is easily the best of the three films. Will Pouter is exceptional as Eustace and takes him from being an insufferable brat to a good kid convincingly. Simon Pegg’s Reepicheep (taking over for Eddie Izzard from the previous film) gives a likable performance.

The film’s visual effects are strong, and the Eustace Dragon looks great.  And yet, the film never really manages to feel…urgent.  Edmund envies Peter, Lucy envies Susan…the temptation of the White Witch (again!). It all feels like we have been there before, even though the setting is new.

While better than the prior films, it still never gets to be what it wants, because what it wants is to be something other than the story C.S. Lewis told.

Narnia Quest Part 2 (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, 2008)

Narnia_002_PosterComing out three years after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian picks up in Narnia, decades after the rule of the Pevensie family. The children had lived and ruled into adulthood, but returned to our world as children, with almost no time having passed.  But in Narnia, mankind has overrun Narnia.  The mythical creatures seem all but gone.

Lady Protectress Prunaprismia gives birth to a son, delighting her husband Lord Protector Miraz.  He calls to have the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian, killed. Caspian’s tutor Professor Cornelius helps him escape. Cornelius has tried to teach Caspian in the forgotten ways of Narnia and Aslan. He gives him an ancient battle horn.

In his escape, Caspian runs into the original citizens of Narnia, whom he had believed to be myth.  In a fit of panic, he blows the horn, but the horn is not an ordinary artifact.  It actually calls the Pevensie children back to Narnia. They discover the ruins of their old castle, and come across their old weapons.  The children then discover Telmarine (the ruling class of Narnia) soldiers about to kill the dwarf Trumkin.  After saving him, they start to make their way back to the other hiding creatures of Narnia. Throughout the story, Lucy is certain she sees Aslan, but nobody else seems to see him.

Eventually, they reach and meet Caspian.  Caspian has cast in his lots with the citizens of Narnia against their Telmarine oppressors.  With the help of the Pevensies, they go on a mission to overthrow the Telmarines.

This is an okay follow up, though it pretty much has all the same positives and negatives of the previous film.  It is trying hard to be an epic, instead of trusting the story laid out before it.  The film invents a temptation to bring back the White Witch for the Pevensie kids that is entirely pointless and unneeded.

Prince Caspian is not terrible…but it really is just an average film adaption. Not great.  But decent enough.

Narnia Quest Part 1 (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, 2005)

Narnia_001_PosterDuring World War 2, the four Pevensie children are sent to stay in the remote countryside with Professor Kirke.  A somewhat distant man, the kids try and pass the time by exploring his large home and playing games.  One day, during a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a large wardrobe.  She discovers that there is something different with the Wardrobe.  As she pushes through coats, she suddenly finds herself in a snowy forest.

She runs into a Faun (half man and half goat) who timidly introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus.  When he discovers that Lucy is a “daughter of Eve”, he becomes worried and tries to hurry Lucy back to where she came. He explains there world (where there is no Christmas, but a seemingly endless winter) is ruled by a tyrant queen, the White Witch, who demands any member of the line of Adam and Eve should be brought to her.  Upon her return, her siblings do not believe Lucy.  And why would they?

That night, Lucy tries to return, and is unknowingly followed by Edmund.  Edmund meets the White Witch who wants him to bring his sibling to her.  She plays to his ego and desire for fanciful Turkish Delights candy.

Eventually, all the kids enter the wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus is missing.  They are greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are…well, talking Beavers.  The kids learn more of the curse upon Narnia, but that many believe the world will be released by the return of King Aslan and the children of Adam and Eve.  And so the children become drawn into a battle to save  the world of Narnia from the cruel White Queen.

The Chronicles of Narnia are the beloved children’s books by noted popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The series has been adapted in the past.  There was a cartoon of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the BBC in 1979.  And four of the books* were adapted for a live action series (also from the BBC) in the late eighties. But the twin successes of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series made things look viable for more fantasy.

And so, Disney and Walden Media combined forces to bring us the Chronicles of Narnia.  They brought in Andrew Adamson, who was known for Shrek and Shrek 2 before this.

Visually, the effects in the film are quite good.  Aslan looks like a real lion, not just a digital cartoon.  The makeup is effect for the creatures of Narnia.  The cast is good.  And yet…the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a bit…flat.  It follows the main beats of the story, but it is clear that, rather than looking to the novels for guidance?  They were looking at the success of the Lord of the Rings.  Overwhelmingly so.  The emphasis is on “epic”.  And this is not really something at the heart of the Narnia books.  The books are short, in fact, much shorter than the Tolkien’s books.  I almost wonder if the seven books total more than the three Rings books.

A certain amount of comparison would be inevitable.  Lewis and Tolkien were close friends.  When it came to their work though, they had very different attitudes.  Tolkien had no real use for allegory.  But that is what drives the heart of the Narnia Books.  The allegory is as important as the story.

And the film does not really water down the allegory. Aslan is still clearly a stand in for Jesus. Though, some might feel that Aslan seems to have less bite.  He seems a bit warm and fuzzy and a little less…threatening…even for the minions of evil.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much wants to be the Lord of the Rings, and this causes the film to not carve out it’s own identity against the Lord of the Rings films. Instead, it feels like a pale comparison.

 

 

 

*Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader were combined.

Culture Wrath (Wrath of the Titans, 2012)

Wrath_of_the_Titans_PosterWrath of the Titans tries to rectify the one thing missing from Clash of the Titans.  Titans.  In the original Clash, the Kraken was a Titan, but in the 2010 film, this was a bit clear.  Wrath opens with the story of how Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades defeated their father Kronos and imprisoned him in the underworld.  It also reminds us that Zeus and Poseidon had conned Hades by binding him to the Underworld.

Perseus and Io were living the quiet life in a fishermans’ village.  Io bore them a son, Helius and then died before the movie started. Gemma Arterton was unable to return to the film and so she was killed off.  This would seem at least understandable until you find that they recast Andromeda with the blonde Rosamund Pike. But anyways, Helius desires to be a warrior, a life which Perseus is aggressively trying to keep him from.

Zeus reveals that he visits Helius in the boy’s dreams, but wishes Perseus would be more open to accepting their status as demigods.  Meanwhile, Hades and Ares are conspiring against the other gods, tempted by Kronos.  They get the jump on Poseidon and Zeus, stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt.  Poseidon is mortally wounded, but escapes and passes his trident to Perseus. He tells Perseus to find his son, the demigod Agenor. He finds Andromeda, who is now a warrior Queen leading her army.  They are aware things are afoot, as monsters have started to burst forth from the ground.  They also have Agenor (who is basically the Greek god equivalent of Russell Brand) as a prisoner.

The three take some warriors with them to go on a mission to rescue Zeus and stop Hades from freeing Kronos. To do this, they travel to find Hephaestus for a way into the underworld. After a fight with Hades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Agenor escape into the ever-shifting labyrinth that will lead to the Underworld.

This film muddles it’s the previous stand against the gods, with Perseus having appeared to soften his feelings towards them. The film is full of nods to Greek myths, such as the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, chimera and so on.  It also has easter eggs like the mechanical owl Bubo in a cameo (which occurred in the 2010 film as well) who is quickly laughed off. But everything feels so randomly chosen and leaves out some great character concepts from the original myths. And if the gods were largely missing in the original film, this one makes it all the worse by having the majority of the gods killed off-screen.

In fact, the film seems dedicated to destroying any further franchise potential by basically erasing the gods from existence. I would say this film is not a worthy successor to the 2010 Clash of the Titans, but then, that film was not impressive either.

The truth is, I wanted both of these films to be great, but they are so largely cynical of their source material, they lack the joy a good fantasy film can contain.  They are all about the big effects, leaving little room for actual character.  Sure, they try for heft in the notion of Hades and Zeus mending their relationship.  And then there is Perseus finding love with Andromeda.  Yet, these plotlines feel forced and a bit hollow.

Modern Culture Clash (Clash of the Titans, 2010)

Clash_of_the_Titans_2010_PosterThe new millennium brought a renewed interest in Greek mythology based films.  This, of course, meant that a remake of Clash of the Titans was probably inevitable.

The modern take is…well, different.  Here, Zeus is angered by King Acrisius and to punish him, he seduces and impregnates the king’s wife Danae.  Angry, he seals her in a box with infant Perseus.  The box is found by fisherman Spyros, who raises Perseus with his wife (Unlike the original film, Danae dies).  Zeus is, of course, angered by this move and turns Acrisius into a monster.

Years later, Perseus is out fishing with his adoptive family.  They witness soldiers tearing down a statue of Zeus.  The soldiers are attacked by demons who also destroy Spyros’ fishing boat, resulting in the death of all but Perseus.  He is found by soldiers who bring him to Argos.  There he witnesses King Kephesus and Queen Cassiopeia.  Cassiopeia mocks the gods and declares her daughter Andromeda more beautiful than any of the goddesses. Zeus and the other gods are watching and angered, but Zeus’ hand is staid by his love for man and the need for their prayers.  But Hades demands that they must make men fear the gods again.  He convinces Zeus to allow him to interfere.

Hades greets the King and Queen and demands Andromeda be sacrificed or Argos be destroyed.  Perseus is convinced to go on a mission to find a way to defeat the titan called the Kraken.  Along with several soldiers, Perseus begins his quest.

You may have noticed there are a lot of changes here.  The film is less a remake and more a re-imagining.  There is no love story between Perseus and Andromeda.  His goal is to make a stand against the gods.  Perseus is in denial of his demi-god status, constantly rejecting any help from Zeus in favor of doing everything “as a man”.

The gods themselves are worried about man’s rebellion against the gods and their power is waning as fewer people are praying to them.  The only real example of the pettiness and competition between the gods is how Hades was betrayed by Zeus and Poseidon, which drives Hades’ desire to destroy his fellow gods.  Noticeably missing?

The female gods.  I mean, they are in the background.  You see them, but they are pretty inconsequential.  Unlike the original, Calibos is no longer the son of Thetis, and he is merely a pawn of  Hades.  It is disappointing that they push all other gods to the side beyond Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.  Making it about sibling rivalry is ignoring the rich history of the Greek gods. I suspect the fact that the original film was written by Beverly Cross, a woman, influenced the 1981 films inclusion of women in more equal standing.

In addition, the original cast women over forty in almost all the major goddess roles.  In this update, most of the female roles prize youth and beauty above all.

Worthington is not nearly as engaging as some of his co-stars, which is a problem.

On the upside, the relationship of Spyro and Perseus is brief but nice.  When his wife is pregnant, young Perseus is worried he will be loved less.  Spyro offers comforting words noting Perseus is no less his son than if they were flesh and blood.

And while Judy Bowker’s Andromeda was a luminous beauty, she was not given a lot of time (though we see her decrying the rules of her curse which resulted in countless deaths).  Here Andromeda is seen as a greatly compassionate woman.  We see her going about the city in disguise to help the poor.  She also refuses to accept the notion that others should die so that she might live.

The creature design is largely quite good (though the demons move so fast so as not to allow much detail to be seen).  But even there, you have flawed concepts at work.  Medusa should not be alluring, and yet, there she is in this film looking beautiful until the moment she turns you to stone.

The re-imagining ends up like a hodgepodge of mythical concepts that are thrown together, almost unrecognizable to their inspiration. In place of a romance with Andromeda, Perseus instead falls for the beautiful immortal Io.  And at times, I found myself getting bored.  This is in spite of the fact that everything tries to be much bigger than the original film.  The scorpions are bigger, the Medusa fight is in a bigger temple, the Kraken is larger.

While Clash of the Titans is louder and slicker, it just feels like a pale imitation of its inspiration.

When I Was a Kid (Batman Begins, 2005)

Batman-Begins-posterIt took until 2005 for Batman to return to the big screen.  From the start, we knew this was going to be a more serious take on the character than the previous films.  They were starting over and taking their inspiration from Batman: Year One.  Warner Brothers brought in Christopher Nolan (director of Following and Memento) to craft a Batman for the modern movie age.  They started to announce their cast and people started to get excited.  Christian Bale. Gary Oldman.  Liam Neeson.  Literally the most controversial casting choice was Katie Holmes…and that was more after the film was released.

Batman Begins is a refreshing take on the character.  It followed closely the stories such as Year One.  And instead of going with villains we had already seen, they opted for two that had not been used in film before.  Ra’s Al Ghul was a longstanding comic book Bat Nemesis who ruled over the elite league of assassins.

Young Bruce Wayne struggles to come to terms with the death of his parents at the hands of low level thug Joe Chill.  He plots to kill Chill, but is convinced by Rachel Dawes (Holmes) to not give into the revenge.  So Bruce drops off the grid and wanders the planet  getting into scrapes and apparently lots of prisons…until he meet Ducard, the mysterious emissary to Ra’s Al Ghul.  After training with the league of assassins, Bruce discovers that the League has plans to erase Gotham off the map, believing it is beyond saving.

When Bruce returns to Gotham, he decides that he needs to use his training to combat the decay of the mob and other criminal activity.  The film also focuses on Detective Jim Gordon and his attempts to deal with corruption inside and outside his force.  As Batman, Bruce Wayne realizes he has an ally.  Of course, the League of Assassins has no intention of giving up their plan.

Nolan was not known for being an action film director prior to this, and it shows.  Sometimes things are to tightly framed making the action hard to follow.  There are great action sequences, but there are times where they are not as easy to follow.

The story is not hard to follow, and unlike previous Batman films, the multiple villains  does not ruin the pacing.  And how the villains are tied together makes sense.  Nolan and his time understand how to intertwine the elements of a tale.

The film is also nearly perfectly cast.  Bale sells the notion of a man with a singular purpose.  Michael Caine’s Alfred is a new and unique take on the character in film and television.  He is a bit rougher and has a military background.  You can see he was hired as much for his strength as his support.  He can be tough, wise and gentle when it is called for.

And then there is Gary Oldman’s Detective Gordon.  He is struggling to try and keep things together, but not out of incompetence, but simply because Gotham is falling apart and the seems, and at times, he seems alone in trying to stem the tide.  It is great to see the movies finally elevate his presence.  He is a far more important to the Bat Mythos than Burton or Schumacher ever seemed to realize.

As Ducard, Neeson brings an self righteous arrogance that sees him in a role of dangerous judge and jury.  Lucius Fox is played by Morgan Freeman in one of those Freeman roles where he is wise and underestimated.   Cillian Murphy’s psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane is creepy, even before he dons his Scarecrow mask.  Holmes is the weakest link.  It is not that she is terrible, but she is out of her depth with the rest of the cast.

Gotham is no longer a hyper stylized city with crazy architecture.  Instead, it is a rundown city, with a recognizable look that could be the streets of a large metropolis.  It is very effective.

Batman Begin’s is a solid start to a new series of films.  It is the path I wish Bryan Singer had followed with Superman.  We are introduced to an exciting world with much potential (as hinted in the final moments of the film).

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