Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tale of the Titans

First things first. If you are asked to pay more to watch Clash of the Titans on the big screen in 3-D, don't waste your money. There is absolutely no bang for your 3-D buck. Clash was not originally conceived or filmed as a 3-D movie and this becomes quite evident in climatic scenes that beg for the 3-D treatment but, oddly, do not get it. Tellingly the best use of 3-D in the entire movie is when the CLASH OF THE TITANS title flashes on the screen at the beginning and the end of the film. Woo! Woo!

For anybody who has seen the original Clash of the Titans (1981), the new Clash is a knockoff in several regards. First of all, the first Clash was top-lined by Sir Lawrence Olivier (Zeus), Claire Bloom (Hera), Maggie Smith (Thetis) and Ursula Andress (Aphrodite) while the new Clash features Liam Neeson (as Zeus), Luke Evans (as Apollo) and Izabella Miko (as Athena). Fiennes does his best Lord Voldemort shtick as the God of the Underworld but his Hades is another odd add on, replacing the god Poseidon. The star power of the actors playing the gods is not the only thing that has been devalued in Olympus. The goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, who have prominent roles in both the original myth and movie, have been almost completely excised in the new movie.

Then there is the matter of Sam Worthington's portrayal of the demi-god Perseus. In the original, the kewpie-lipped Harry Hamlin actually looked as if he had been kissed by the gods. Worthington, on the other hand, is another slab of Aussie lumber from Down Under, a blunt piece of wood who goes about his hero's journey with a sullen, stolid resolve. Worthington's performance coupled with Louis Leterrier's (Transporter 2) direction robs Clash of most of its wonder and magic and turns it into another grim retribution flick, albeit one with flying horses and chicks with snakes for braids.

The love story between our hero and Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) has been completely jettisoned and replaced with a completely contrived relationship between Worthington and Gemma Arteton (Io). That said, Clash is satisfactory in a Harry Potter sort of way, with well-trained British actors slumming amidst competently executed special effects. The Kraken and the Gorgon Medusa are given impressive life on the screen and the Pegasus is a wonderfully impressive creation. It is not a terrible way to spend an evening. It is also not necessary to see it in 3-D.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Less than Wonderful

I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and I was powerfully underwhelmed. Unlike my Avatar experience, the glasses were large and clunky and whole thing felt like watching a movie through one of those old View-masters - a sincere sensation when I was twelve - not so much now.

Whereas Tim Burton's original flights of fancy (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), were and are often exhilarating, there is something somnambulant and sleep inducing about director Tim Burton's remakes (Planet of the Apes, Alice).

Oddly, I was more enchanted by the flashbacks featuring Alice's first Wonderland visit as a young girl than I was by her feminist's progress as a headstrong young woman. This movie might as well be titled Merchant and Ivory's Alice in Wonderland - in 3-D. There is obviously an audience for this; it just doesn't include me.

I will say Helena Bonham Carter is a big-headed hoot as the Red Queen and Crispin Glover is appropriately dastardly as her wicked knave.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Game of Death

As a metaphor for being poor and immigrant, In America features the most insidious arcade game I have ever seen. A barker conjoles you to spend a dollar to win an Elmo doll. All you have to do is throw three baseball sized balls into the mouth of an aluminum drain pipe (that is surrounded by happy little Elmo dolls). The catch is, if you fail to place all three balls into the mouth of the pipe, you pay the barker double - but it is double or nothing. If you wager another $2 and you win, you owe nothing. If you lose you owe $4 in addition to the original $2 you lost. But, once again, if you wager another $8 and you win you owe nothing. But, if you lose, you owe $16. If you quit while you are ahead but behind you are now out of $26. But if you bet just $32 and you win, well you owe nothing. Do the math. You can walk away $26 poorer but for just $8 more you could owe nothing AND win an Elmo doll. Shoot, that's almost breaking even. So you pony up ANOTHER $32 dollars. And lose. Now you owe another $64 dollars. Now you are in for $90 but in you just wager another 128 dollars...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

American the Beautiful

I just finished watching Jim Sheridan's In America. I remembered when this little film got three Oscar nominations back in 2004 (Best Actress for Samantha Morton, Best Supporting Actor for Djimon Hounsou and Best Screenplay for Sheridan). At the time I was like WTF? because I had never heard of it (it made $25 million at the box office, which is kinda impressive because I don't know anybody who saw it). I was intrigued primarily because of Hounsou's Supporting Actor nod (like Denzel Washington's Glory character Trip, who "ran for President," Hounsou didn't win).

Well, I just saw it and it is a remarkable little film. Both the acting nods were well deserved and, frankly, Paddy Considine should have been nominated for Best Actor as well for he carries much of the movie.

Hounsou's performance is problematic because it is the archetypal "magic negro" role. I won't spoil the ending for you but you know what happens to magical negroes, don't you? (They win Academy Award supporting actor and actress nominations).

Also, the Irish immigrant family embodied by Considine, Morton and the wonderfully guileless Bolger sisters, Sarah and Emma, seem to land in a pastel-colored, magical-realist New York City. Sure, times are hard and they live in a tenement, but the girls roller skate on hardwood floors, attend Catholic school and walk unmolested to an old fashioned ice cream parlor run by African immigrants.

Still, the movie is full of wonderful little grace notes and is worthy of all the awards it won.


Monday, March 22, 2010


Apparently there is a gay couple on Desperate Housewives (I wouldn't know - I haven't watched since the Alfre Woodard train wreck season). My 17 year-old daughter, who is a devout fan of the show, tells me the relationship doesn't bother her because "they never do anything."

All of this was brought up by my coming late (as usual) to the on-line dust up that has arisen around ABC 's daytime drama One Life to Live's decision to end their "Kish" gay-themed story arc. "Kish" is a cutesy mash up of the character names of Kyle and Fish who, since 2009, have engaged in the sin that "dare not speak its name" without, apparently, ever engaging in the sin that dare not speak its name. Embarrassingly, for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, GLAAD had just honored OLTL for showing a positive portrayal of gay life.

What I find interesting is how Mark Cherry, who is gay, has spoon fed this storyline to mass America. Darren Starr and the gay writers and producers of Sex in the City (which I continue to insist is a thinly veiled expose of being white, gay and fabulous in NYC) also found a way to integrate safe, viewer-friendly gays into their narrative.

Other "minorities" have also done this. The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the whitest shows ever to to hit the airways, was actually a faux reality show about Jewish writer/producer Carl Reiner's real life in a predominantly Jewish New York suburb (which is why the very Jewish "Helpers," played by Jerry Paris and Ann Morgan Guibert, live next door).

When the Soprano's David Chase became the producer of Northern Exposure, all of a sudden we discover that Cicely, Alaska has a Sicilian enclave. Who knew?

Likewise, Grey's Anatomy producer Shonda Rhimes has inserted Chandra Wilson's Dr. Miranda Bailey as her personal doppleganger. There are probably other racial avatars in "Anatomy" that I am not yet aware of.

Wouldn't it be nice if writers of all stripes could write to their heart's content without this obfuscation?


Monday, March 15, 2010

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, Now

Our Family Wedding is the latest entry in the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner oeuvre of awkward interracial mixing and matching. The one constant of these movies is that the black person is "the catch," in many ways more attractive, gifted and talented than the object of their affection (0kay, Guess Who's Ashton Kutcher may be prettier than Zoe Saldana, but his character is also unemployed) and all could, obviously, do better. The on-going conceit is that the black half of these matches has to be this fabulous just to be palatable to the ostensibly "better" family they are marrying into. There may be a black man in the White House but it remains the same as it was in 1967; the same as it was in 2005; and the same as it will be in this post-racial society - allegedly.

At first blush, Wedding is more faithful to Dinner than the clunky Guess Who remake starring Kutcher and Bernie Mac. Marcus Boyd, the too-good-to-be-true doctor played by Lance Gross (Tyler Perry's House of Pain), is a direct descendant of Sidney Poitier's Dr. John Wade Prentice. Dr. Boyd is not only handsome and intelligent, he is also kind, well bred and selfless. It is his decision to join Doctors Without Borders in Thailand that precipitates the ensuing complications and shenanigans.

Top lined by Forest Whittaker and comedian Carlos Mencia, Wedding is better balanced than both its predecessors. Mencia's years as a stand-up comedian allows him to employ a nervy confidence that enables him to more than hold his own with Academy Award winner Whittaker. By the same token, Whittaker's lazy-eyed homeliness brings a bashed gravitas to his portrayal of suave late night radio host Brad Boyd - you can see the pride and hurt of his 49 years as a black man on his face. Boyd is a bon vivant who appreciates both fine art and fine wine while Mencia, the owner of a detail and body shop, is an exacting craftsman who is lovingly restoring a classic car to give his daughter as a gift when she graduates from law school.

Wedding is surprisingly balanced in other ways, too. We get to see Marcus' interact with his father, an unrepentant ladies' man, his outspoken uncle (Charlie Murphy) and his preppy, milquetoast cousin (an uncredited cameo by Taye Diggs) while his intended, Lucia Ramirez' (Ugly Betty's America Ferrera) interacts with her unfulfilled mother (Diana-Maria Riva), her tomboy sister (Anjelah Johnson) and her outspoken grandmother (Real Woman Has Curves' Lupe Ontiveros). Lastly, we are allowed to see the playful "bromance" between Whittaker and his best friend (Southland's Regina King) while it evolves into something more as they take the lead in planning Marcus and Lucia's last minute wedding.

There are herks and jerks to Wedding, unfunny wild goat and Viagra jokes to mention a few, but, on the whole, this is a more than moderately pleasing enterprise ending, as it does, in a fond melding of electric slide and mariachi band as the Boyd and Ramirez families decide to keep the best of both their worlds with neither having to give up their cherished cultural identities.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Complexion of the Situation

I was listening to a local morning sports talk show and one of the topics was about whether or not the National Basketball Association (NBA) was a "thug league." I found this topic interesting, especially on the morning after a National Hockey League (NHL) player had knocked off the other player's helmet and then proceeding to assault the player with said helmet. But, apparently, that wasn't a topic worth discussing. When I called in to challenge the notion of the NBA being a "thug league" and asked why fighting was appropriate for the NHL (a league where men wear razor sharp skates and carry club like sticks) and inappropriate in the NBA ( a league where men virtually play in their skivvies), I was told that "fighting was part of the NHL's culture."

Say what? Back in the primordial age, when the NBA was as white as the NHL, basketball games were a rough and tumble affair that were actually played inside cages - which is why, in some quadrants, basketball players are still called "cagers." Even after the complexion of the league changed, on court fights and bench-clearing brawls were part of the NBA's culture. Just like in today's NHL, enforcers like Rick Mahorn and Maurice Lucas patrolled the hardwood providing muscle for their more talented and fleet-footed teammates. People tend to forget that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand and, for all intents and purposes, center Kent Benson's career with a hard shot to his jaw - this a few short months before the famous Kermit Washington to Rudy Tomjanovich "punch that changed basketball forever."

Current NBA commissioner David Stern, then the NBA's chief counsel, later said that the incident made NBA officials realize that "we couldn't allow men that big and that strong to go around throwing punches at each other." Interestingly, the NHL feels no need to impose such a sanction even though their players, on average, are bigger, travel faster (on skates) and wield club-like sticks. Many hockey players have taken sticks to the face and are missing teeth but this is considered a badge of honor.

The ridiculousness continues on the race track where NASCAR drivers are allowed to settle beefs by ramming into one another at ungodly speeds. Last week at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards sent fellow driver Brad Keselowski airborne by clipping his car from behind. This is not the first wreck between Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. At last year's race in Talladega, Alabama, Brad Keselowski sent Carl Edwards out of the race that Edwards would have won had Keselowski not have wrecked into him.

Former race car driver Rusty Wallace defended Edward's retaliation.
Some of his comments:
"It's all about respect."
"About time Brad paid his dues."
"Nobody likes getting knocked around."
"Everybody in the sport - loves it"
(If someone messed with him) "I stuck his butt in the wall!"

Apparently everyone understands "honor," and "manhood rites." Except when it applies to a league populated primarily with players of the African-American persuasion.

Then, of course, this kind of behavior, will NOT be tolerated.