Saturday, July 31, 2010

DVDebuts: Clashing Titans, Lightning Thieves & Hot Tubbers--not bad at all

Three films made their DVDebuts recently (two just this week) that are better than many of the critical establishment might have you believe.  Better, that is, in terms of simple -- but not stupid -- adventure or comedic entertainment.

CLASH OF THE TITANS, based on the old gods-demi-gods-and-mere-mortals movie, is the best of the three, thanks to Luc Besson-trained Louis Leterrier, who gave us the first two Transporter movies, the clever Unleashed and the best Hulk film so far, and who here wisely decided to make an action film that happens to be a fantasy sporting some very good special effects.  Most films in this genre descend into bloated spectacle, but for a change, Titans' running time is a mere 106 minutes, all of which move quickly. The effects are eye-popping and fun, and the acting never gets in the way of the adventure. So the movie-makers change the original myths a lot -- so what?  The myths were just stories, after all, and the one shown here, if no great shakes, has its merits. In the very large and somewhat starry cast, many better-than-average performers get lost, and lead actor Sam Worthing-tonplaying our hero Perseus, for instance, is his usual buff-cipher self. Only Mads Mikkelsen manages to embue his character with enough strength and gravity to stand out from the rest.  I suspect the Blu-Ray edition is even better than the "after-thought 3-D" version that hit theaters. Give it a try and become a kid again.

PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF is another of those dumb 'n lengthy titles that make marquees cringe, but the movie itself proves some fun, for awhile. The story is actually a better one than that of "Clash" (probably due to Rick Riordan, who wrote the novels upon which the film is based), but the execution of same by Chris Columbus, a director we once thought showed promise (Adventures in BabysittingMrs. Doubtfire), is not.  It goes mostly for the obvious, and its pacing is often off.  This one finally is too long for its own good. But the young cast is game enough, and the older actors -- Catherine Keener, Pierce Brosnan, Steve CooganJoe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman (as Medusa!) -- are fun. That story idea is quite clever: Seems the old gods are still up to their usual tricks: siring children via mortals (you just can't keep a good deity down!), and these kids are sequestered away in a kind of "forever summer camp" where they learn to battle and bond. At its best, the movie combines youthful insouciance with adult caring and concern.  If you watch, stick around for a funny (if not too surprising) "revenge moment" inserted into the end credits.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE did get some decent reviews, but as it probably looked to many of you like a CCC (crass, commercial comedy, which it is), you may have left it alone. There is a lot of fun to be had, however, especially from an actor who deserves more attention: Rob Corddry.  This guy has been funny and effective in a number of smaller roles (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, The Heartbreak Kid, What Happens in Vegas) though his best (in Lower Learning) was barely seen (it's on video for those who want to sample).  Here, Corddry aces the part of a loser adult who gets his second chance but has trouble facing up to it.  The rest of the cast is fine, and the time travel situation provides the usual number of laughs, along with moments of surprise, charm and even a bit of feeling.  Maybe the most memorable moment is the initial one: seeing Leo the Lion in all his Blu-Ray splendor. Are his days finally numbered, as MGM sinks deeper and deeper into the muck?
We hope not.

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