Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

Logan Lerman, wearing his hoodie, keeps a sharp eye out for George Zimmerman.

(2013) Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Douglas Smith, Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion, Anthony Head, Leven Rambin, Jake Abel, Missi Pyle, Connor Dunn, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Ron Perlman (voice), Octavia Spencer (voice), Shohreh Aghdashloo (voice). Directed by Thor Freudenthal

When you’re a demigod (the offspring of one mortal parent and one Greek God or Goddess), life pretty much sucks. You can save the world and still end up feeling like a loser.

At least, that’s the way it is for Percy Jackson (Lerman). The son of Poseidon who saved the world from a plot to use the world’s most dangerous weapon to kickstart a war between the Gods that would have devastated the planet is kind of moping around a year later, wondering if he was indeed a one-quest wonder. Upstaged in nearly everything by Charisse (Rambin), daughter of the God of War, his friends Grover (Jackson) the satyr and Annabeth (Daddario) the daughter of the Goddess of Wisdom have his back but the headmaster at Camp Half-Blood, Dionysus (Tucci) can’t even remember Percy’s name let alone his fame.

When the camp’s defensive barrier is attacked (a magic tree), it appears that the only way to sustain it is to retrieve the legendary Golden Fleece of Jason and the Argonauts. However, that rests on an island in the Sea of Monsters (what we humans call the Bermuda Triangle) and the way there and back is perilous indeed. He will have to deal with traitorous demigods, crazed cabbies, monsters of all size and shapes and a dorky half-brother (Smith) who happens to be a Cyclops. With his friends at his side, how can he be beaten? Well, quite often actually…

The second movie in the series based on Rick Riordan’s wildly popular young adult books, like the first film, uses Greek mythology as a jumping off point. However, that film was kind of poorly written with plot points that lacked coherent explanation and suffered a bit from too close to Harry Potter for comfort. Those sins are still very much in evidence here and while the special effects are more spectacular in the sequel, the thrill factor is much less in the second film than it was in the first.

Lerman has blown hot and cold as a young leading man. His sad sack Percy doesn’t have the heroic qualities of a Harry Potter although he does find his inner hero by film’s end (that’s not much of a spoiler). Here, he doesn’t hold up well to Rambin, who is sexy and charismatic and whose character exceeds Percy in nearly every category as Rambin does Lerman here. Lerman is beginning to remind me of Shia LaBeouf in a negative way.

A movie like this needs to be exciting and thrilling and the issue is that I never felt those things even once during the movie. It’s just kind of there – I don’t really care much about the characters, the visuals can be nice but ultimately they are like seeing a single red rose in a snowy garden; the color is beautiful but it doesn’t change that the rest of the setting is bland and colorless. The series, beloved by many, deserves better movies to be made from it.

REASONS TO GO: Some spectacular effects sequences. Fillion and Tucci are fun.

REASONS TO STAY: Way too Harry Potter-esque. Lacks chemistry. Percy not nearly as heroic as Harry.

FAMILY VALUES:  Here there be monsters; also some mild foul language, fantasy action sequences and a few semi-scary images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rambin, a natural blonde, wore a wig for her role as Charisse; Daddario, a natural brunette, dyed her hair blonde to play Annabeth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 38% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Story of Us

The Iron Lady


 

The Iron Lady

Meryl Streep suddenly notices that Jim Broadbent’s deoderant isn’t what it could be.

(2011) Biodrama (Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Harry Lloyd, Olivia Colman, Nicholas Farrell, Roger Allam, Anthony Head, Richard E. Grant, Susan Brown, Julian Wadham, Pip Torrens, Nick Dunning, David Westhead, Amanda Root. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

 

Few political figures of the late 20th century are as polarizing as Margaret Thatcher. Conservatives revere her for her fiscal frugality and willingness to go to war to protect British soil; liberals despise her for…well, pretty much the same things. By all accounts her personality was forceful and charismatic; she had a will of steel that bent to nothing and nobody, and when she set her sights on something, she inevitably would achieve it.

Her biopic starts with Thatcher (Streep) long retired from politics, wandering into a corner grocer for a pint of milk. She goes unrecognized by the other patrons of the shop; she grouses about the price of milk as any other consumer might. When she gets home, there is consternation; apparently she wasn’t supposed to wander off by herself and nobody knew where she was.

It turns out that Mrs. Thatcher has a touch of dementia. For one thing, she’s speaking with her husband Denis (Broadbent) – even though he’s been dead and gone for five years. Her daughter Carol (Colman) is urging her mother to clean out her father’s things from the closet. It’s long overdue for her to say goodbye. So she begins the heart-wrenching task of going through her late husband’s things, some of which send her on trips down memory lane – what we film  freaks like to call “flashbacks.”

We meet Margaret (Roach) as a young woman, a grocer’s daughter as London is enduring the Blitz. She’s plucky (some might say foolish) enough to run upstairs during a bombing to cover the butter. She idolizes her father who has some ultimately unfulfilled political aspirations. She develops some of her own, although getting into the male-dominated Tory party and winning a seat in the House of Commons proves challenging. She also meets young businessman Denis Thatcher (Lloyd) who proposes marriage which she accepts.

She eventually wins through and earns the respect of some of her peers for her strength of character and intelligence. She is mentored by Airey Neave (Fellows), a savvy politician who is later assassinated by the IRA. This is partially responsible for her lifelong hatred of terrorism and her refusal to give into it. She continues to rise in the party until she arrives as Prime Minister, a position she will be elected to for three terms and the only female to date elected to the position.

But the movie doesn’t really focus on her political career, although it is necessarily a part of her story. Nor does it take a position pro or con regarding her politics. Director Lloyd and screenwriter Abi Morgan take great pains to remain neutral; somehow I suspect that they admired the woman but not her policies.

The attraction here is Streep. She deservedly won the Oscar earlier this year for her performance which is quite frankly one of the finest of her illustrious career. She captures the nuances of Thatcher’s mannerisms, yes – but so could any mimic. What she does that makes her performance scintillating is capture the essence of her character, from the force of nature presence as a world leader to a confused and sometimes frustrated old woman who no longer commands power or respect.

It is the latter aspect that conservatives have railed against this film for. Thatcher has largely stayed out of the public eye for the past 25 years since her somewhat painful ouster which apparently angered her greatly. There has been some speculation that she, like her good friend Ronald Reagan, might be the victim of Alzheimer’s Disease – which quite frankly is just that. I personally think it takes just as much courage to take on the ravages of old age as it does a hostile Labour party.

The movie overall doesn’t match Streep’s performance, sadly. Although Broadbent does a good job in his role, most of the other performances are lost and quite frankly I had a difficult time telling the players apart. There is a lot of archival footage to help tell Thatcher’s tale but at the end of the day it is Streep who’s remarkable Oscar-winning performance elevates this movie above a Biography channel piece and gives life to Thatcher, something that the rest of the movie failed to do.

WHY RENT THIS: Streep’s justifiable Oscar-winning performance. Interesting story-telling style.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks insight into her political decisions and glosses over her more controversial policies.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are some images of violence as well as brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won both of the Oscars it was nominated for (the other being Best Make-Up), a rare feat that had previously been accomplished by Ed Wood.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While mostly the standard promotional stuff, there is a pretty decent featurette on the role the real Denis Thatcher played in her life.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $114.9M on an unreported production budget; the movie was likely a box office hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Nixon

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Multiple Sarcasms

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


 

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nicolas Cage may be laughing now but he won't be when he shows up on another Conan O'Brien Homeland Security Threat Alert sketch.

(2012) Superhero (Columbia) Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert, Spencer Wilding, Sorin Tofan, Jacek Koman, Cristian Iacob, Jai Stefan. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

 

This is a movie that is just going to make you stammer. On Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor: “Didn’t they direct Crank? That-that-that was so good!” On Nicolas Cage: “But-but-but-but…didn’t he win an Oscar? Didn’t he make Raising Arizona? Peggy Sue Got Married? Adaptation? Valley Girl?” All true. Throw those expectations out the window.

Johnny Blaze (Cage), the Ghost Rider has fled the United States and his curse of turning into a flaming headed demon who extracts vengeance (and the souls) of those who deserve it which is pretty much everybody. He is living in the Balkans now, skulking in the darkness. He is approached by a drunken French priest named Moreau (Elba) who tells him that he is needed to help protect a young boy that the Devil is after; should he fulfill his end of the bargain, his order will help him get rid of the curse. Having nothing better to do and 90 minutes of screen time to fill, he agrees.

Said boy is named Danny (Riordan) and he is the son of the comely gypsy Nadya (Placido) who wants him back. Denis Leary-esque thug Ray Carrigan (Whitworth) – who has a history with Nadya – has managed to steal the boy after blowing up the Ghost Rider with a grenade (they just don’t make demons like they used to). Still, you can’t keep a good Rider down and Blaze steals the boy back which hacks the devil off .

Satan, going by the name Roarke (Hinds) – and he’s about as far from “Fantasy Island” as you’re going to get – is pretty cheesed off so he turns the dead Carrigan into Decay, a demon that rots everything he touches – everything except Twinkies which are immune. Take that, snack food naysayers – who knew an armor made of sponge cake and filling would grant the wearer immunity from demonic powers?

Anyway it’s all leading to a ritual that must be performed on the solstice blah blah blah blah blah…you know the drill. The odds are against them but you know ol’ Flamehead will save the day. This is, after all, a Marvel Comic book adaptation.

And folks, I’m here to tell you it is the worst Marvel movie since the largely unseen 1994 Fantastic Four film that was made to retain the rights to the comic for Constantin Films (who would finally make a big budget version in 2005), and that’s saying something. This is Steel bad. This is Catwoman bad.

Neveldine and Taylor have made some nifty action films but you get the sense they were hamstrung by the PG-13 rating imposed on them by the studio. While there is some of the out-of-control seat-of-the-pants filmmaking that characterized their first movies, mostly they resort to clever camera angles and loud pulsating hard rock to turn the movie into an hour and a half long Megadeth video. This isn’t nearly as much fun or free-spirited as their earlier works; not only is it not anything goes, it feels more like nothing does.

Cage has gotten his fair share of flack for his overacting, but he sets a new bar here. Remember those Conan O’Brien bits about Nicolas Cage performances being the new means of setting Homeland Security threat levels? Cage has produced a whole new threat level. There’s a scene where he interrogates an Eastern European Eurotrash club owner about the whereabouts of Carrigan that has simply got to be seen to be believed. I honestly believed his head was going to explode (and it pretty much does in CGI when he transforms into the Rider). And while we’re on the subject of acting, can we not find a juvenile actor who could act? Riordan delivers a performance that compares unfavorably with Jake Lloyd’s wooden extravaganza as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And no, that’s not something you want said about your acting.

In fact, much of the CGI owes as much to Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes as it does to Marvel Comics. Cage’s eyes bug out like a wolf checking out a female – I half-expected a wolf whistle and an “Ah-OOOOOOO-Gah!!!” to accompany the transformation. He also spits out bullets machine gun-style at one of Carrigan’s thugs. When you can’t do a comedic scene as well as a 70-year-old cartoon, even with all the modern technology at your disposal, you’re doing something terribly wrong.

This is simply an embarrassment. I didn’t think the first Ghost Rider was as bad as it was made out to be but this one is far worse than you can imagine. Other than Placido who is sweet to look at, and Hinds who is at least having fun chewing the scenery as a Wall Street Beelzebub, and Lambert as a tattooed monk, there really isn’t a lot to recommend this movie, other than to serve as a warning that not all Marvel movies are necessarily good.

REASONS TO GO: Film is a bit better-looking than the first Ghost Rider.

REASONS TO STAY: Cage just…oh my God. Overacting doesn’t even cover it. Story is predictable and dull. Too much “look ma I’m directing” in the action sequences.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, some darkly disturbing images, and plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eva Mendes was approached to reprise her role from the first movie but perhaps wisely she declined.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 15% positive reviews. Metacritic: 32/100. The reviews are a train wreck.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wicker Man (2006)

TATTOO LOVERS: Lambert sports a face full as do several of the other monks. Cage as Johnny Blaze doesn’t have any per se but his flaming skull would make a wicked awesome tat.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: Shame

New Releases for the Week of February 17, 2012


February 17, 2012

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

(Columbia) Nicolas Cage, Fergus Riordan, Ciaran Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Anthony Head, Christopher Lambert. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor

Johnny Blaze, the motorcycle stunt rider who made a pact with the devil to become his instrument of vengeance on earth has been laying low, trying to avoid people as much as possible so as not to activate his curse. However when agents of heaven inform him that Satan is attempting to turn an innocent boy into the Anti-Christ, he knows he must help – especially if his curse will be lifted should he be successful.

See the trailer, clips, an interview, a promo, a featurette and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Supernatural Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, and language)

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

(UTV) Imran Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Boman Irani, Ratna Pathak Shah. A young Indian architect who has spent his life trying to please his parents loses his job in Las Vegas and decides to hide that fact from them while he finds another job. After a night of drinking, he wakes up married to a young hairstylist and now must also hide that from his parents before their annulment goes through ten days later. However, there is always that pesky love thing that seems to happen between the unlikeliest of partners in the unlikeliest of situations.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Secret World of Arrietty

(Disney) Starring the voices of Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett.  A young boy discovers a family of tiny people living beneath the floorboards of his home on whatever they can scavenge. Although contact between humans and these borrowers is forbidden, a fast friendship develops between the boy and a brave young borrower named Arrietty. This is the latest release from the acclaimed anime production company Studio Ghibli.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: G

This Means War

(20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler. Two of the CIA’s best field agents are the best of friends. They know each other’s moves, protect each other and are closer than brothers. They would take a bullet for one another. The only thing that could drive them apart? A woman.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references, some violence and action, and for language)

New Releases for the Week of January 13, 2012


January 13, 2012

CONTRABAND

(Universal) Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, J.K. Simmons, William Lucking. Directed by Baltasar Komakur

A former smuggler who had managed to escape the life of crime and go straight is drawn back in when his foolish brother-in-law screws up a drug deal and has to get rid of his cargo. Trying to make up for his brother-in-law’s foul-up not only brings him back into the life, but also puts his wife and sons into the crosshairs of the druglords and crooked cops who have a vested interest in his new cargo – counterfeit bills being smuggled in from Panama to New Orleans. He will have to rely on some very rusty skills if he is to see this thing through.

See the trailer, clips, promos, an interview and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use)

Beauty and the Beast 3D

(Disney) Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach. After a successful re-release of The Lion King last year, Disney once again moves to add a third dimension to another classic movie. While some (myself included) have bitched about the Mouse House squeezing every last dime from their classic films, it might be well to remember that they have had a history in the pre-home video days of periodically re-releasing their classics for those who haven’t seen it in a theater. Of course, they didn’t up-charge for those re-releases either…

See the trailer, clips, featurettes, music videos and a link to buy the movie at Amazon.com here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

Carnage

(Sony Classics) Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly.  The latest from director Roman Polanski is based on an acclaimed stage play. When a child injures another child in a Brooklyn park, the parents get together to discuss the situation in a civilized and adult manner. However as the evening wears on, the veneer of civilization begins to dissolve and the “adults” prove to be worse than children.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Iron Lady

(Weinstein) Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Roger Allam, Anthony Head. The story of Margaret Thatcher, one of the most powerful women of the 20th century and an icon of the conservative movement. Her era as Prime Minister is roughly concurrent to the Reagan years here and was very similar in many ways – neither Reagan nor Thatcher would have been considered leadership material and yet through savvy politicking and an understanding of what their electorates needed, both became influential in the world of the 1980s and their leadership, for good or not, still has ramifications in the world today.

See the trailer, a promo, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images and brief nudity)

Joyful Noise

(Warner Brothers) Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Courtney B. Vance. Two feuding divas in a church choir find their tiff growing when one’s grandson falls for the other’s daughter. On top of it all, their choir is competing in the National Joyful Noise Competition and their community is counting on them to bring home the gold, which is hard to do when their best can’t agree on anything.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for some language including a sexual reference)