#107 - Meanwhile...
1932 - 2010
Hey there, JET-setters. Welcome back to your Electric Theatre. Now begrudgingly in three dimensions. Sigh.
NOW IN THEATRES
Clash Of The Titans
Before I say anything about this movie, let me have a word or two about 3D. I tried very hard to see this in glorious 2D. No one seemed to have a kind word for the eleventh hour 3D conversion done to the movie and I’m not a huge fan of the process even when it’s done well. So I went to my favorite old-fashioned single-screen cinema here in Los Angeles. I’d recently seen a flat projection of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland there and knew that even Avatar had screened there in 2D. Checking the showtimes, there was no “3D” after the title Clash Of The Titans, so I assumed I was safe. The girl in the ticket booth handed me my change and tickets. As I turned away, she stopped me. “You forgot your glasses!” she cheerfully piped up. I believe I said, “Oh yeah” but my look and demeanor said, “God-DAMMIT!” I was tricked! Not even my beloved old-timey movie house was safe from the encroaching menace of 3D.
Look, I realize that railing against 3D is about as useful as complaining about this new-fangled “internet” deal. It’s here to stay and sometimes it’s kind of neat. But I really find it unnecessary. 3D doesn’t make a movie better. It just makes it cooler, if it’s done well. When it’s done poorly, it makes watching a movie a headache-inducing chore and honestly, most of the movies being produced in 3D don’t need any help on that score. More than anything, I’m annoyed that my freedom of choice was taken away and that’s not necessarily Hollywood’s fault. As long as movies are being released in a variety of fruit flavors (2D. 3D! IMAX 3D!! Super-Mega-UltraWow 3D with full release!!!) , theatre owners need to be particularly clear about what version they’re screening, especially if they want to charge a premium for some of these. Happily, my cinema did not seem to charge me any more for the privilege of seeing Clash in 3D but even so, I felt like the victim of a bait-and-switch. OK, end of rant…for now.
When I first learned that Clash Of The Titans was being fed into the remake mill, I was neither incensed nor particularly enthusiastic. It would certainly be possible to build a better Clash, as the original is no great shakes in a lot of ways. What makes the first movie memorable is the undeniable charm and magic of Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects. Even for a generation of kids raised on Star Wars, these creatures held us spellbound. For perhaps the first and last time, we sensed the human hand behind these images. The effects were imperfect compared to what we were used to but they had a personality that many other movies lacked. Sure, you could easily rev up the effects to attract a 21st century audience, but if doing so meant losing that handmade charm then all you’re left with is just another big-budget extravaganza.
Surprisingly, Louis Leterrier’s remake is no better and no worse than the 1981 version. Like the original, parts of the film are genuinely fun to watch. Like the original, there are some major flaws that prevent this from being a truly good movie. And like the original, I suspect this will not age gracefully. Liam Neeson and especially Ralph Fiennes appear to be having a grand time as Zeus and Hades and I enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Draco. But once again, Perseus comes across as a thudding bore. I guess Sam Worthington is a movie star now, not because he’s displayed even a glimmer of personality in any of his films to date but because Hollywood assures us that he is. But when he faces off against a legitimate screen presence like Neeson or Fiennes, he seems as bland as unbuttered toast. It seems unlikely that anyone would rally behind Perseus against the gods, and it seems even less likely that his torment over the death of his adopted family would drive him to seek revenge. Andromeda is all but forgotten in this version. By the time she’s given up to be sacrificed to the Kraken, Perseus seems a bit surprised to see her hanging there, as if it had slipped his mind that there was another way out of all this.
Unfortunately, Clash Of The Titans seems to be Hollywood’s idea of an ideal remake. There’s no effort here to make something better than what had been done before. The bar has been set only so high and as long as you clear that distance, you’re fine. Leterrier does that, so by Hollywood’s Special Olympics standards, this qualifies as a win. But for those of us hoping to see the awesome spectacle of Greek mythology finally unleashed in all its fury and wonder across the big screen, it’s back to the old drawing board. (* * ½)
TALES FROM THE QUEUE
The Silent Partner
If you’re a fan of smart, twisty crime thrillers like The Thomas Crown Affair, then listen up. This week’s TFTQ entry is right up your alley. Directed by Daryl Duke from a screenplay by Curtis Hanson, this 1978 release hits all the right notes. It’s clever, unpredictable and absolutely worth seeking out.
Elliott Gould stars as a mild-mannered teller in a Toronto bank (the DVD art depicts an American hundred-dollar bill for some reason, although the movie is clearly set in Canada). Around Christmas, Gould notices a suspicious mall Santa casing the bank and realizes they’re about to be robbed. He takes precautions, hiding the cash from his drawer in a Superman lunch box, allowing the robber to get away with a piddling sum and hiding the rest away in a safety deposit box. Christopher Plummer is the bank robber and realizes what Gould’s done after seeing him on television. So begins a tension-filled game of cat-and-mouse with each man turning the tables on the other over and over again.
Gould is a grossly undervalued actor and it’s always a pleasure to pick up a movie from the 1970s, when he was at the top of his game, as a reminder of what a gifted actor he was (and is). Whether it’s this, The Long Goodbye, California Split or one of many other terrific 70s movies, Gould can be counted on to deliver a mesmerizing performance. It’s great fun seeing him reveal hidden layers of intelligence and resourcefulness, emerging as a crafty but quiet criminal mastermind. Plummer is a revelation as the slimy, sadistic bad guy. Plummer tended to play more refined characters, specializing these days in a kind of gentle grandfatherly character, but here, he’s all malice and barely contained sexual violence. He’s a perfect counterpoint to Gould’s restrained hero. The great pleasure of The Silent Partner is how often the roles of cat and mouse are reversed. Nothing in the movie is as straightforward as it seems, making for a truly memorable and entertaining film.
Also worth mentioning is a small, early appearance by John Candy, playing it completely straight as one of Gould’s colleagues. But Candy’s role is nothing more than a nifty bonus in a movie already packed full of great moments. The Silent Partner is an unsung gem from the 70s, flawlessly constructed and impeccably executed. (* * * ½)
Thanks to Christopher Seay for this week’s TFTQ recommendation! As always, drop me a line if you’ve got an underappreciated or rarely seen movie tucked away somewhere, either via email or JET on Facebook, now easily accessible through the handy-dandy badge to the left. Until next time, keep on keepin’ on.