Wrath of the Titans (2012)

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Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Warner/Legendary/Thunder Road.

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Polly Johnsen. Writer:David Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Javier Navarrete. Sets: Charles Wood.

Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, John Bell, Lily James, Sinead Cusack.

SYNOPSIS

Now living the quiet life as a fisherman with his 10 year old son, half mortal/half God Perseus (Worthington) is called upon one last time to save irreligious humanity when his father, the great God Zeus (Neeson) is captured by his other son, the jealously enraged God of War Armes (Ramirez). Perseus has to rescue Zeus, with the help of warrior Queen Andromeda (Pike) and comic foil Agenor (Kebbell).

REVIEW

Clearly out to best Clash of the Titans in terms of audacious spectacle and popcorn munching fun, director Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles and, in the near future, the remake of teenage mutant Ninja Turtles) is clearly in his element with this sand and sandals daftness.

Topping the original was always going to be a foregone conclusion, given that Clash was such a wooden, serious and dull affair, itself eclipsed by the equally leaden but splendidly crafted 1981 film, the one with the memorable stop-motion special effects from Ray Harryhausen.

Liebesman, thankfully, is a man with a good sense of humour and Wrath ticks along nicely with just the right sort of ripe, juicy, Hollywood dialogue that befits a film raiding classical antiquity with scant regard for accuracy or respect.

Casting Nighy, for starters, was an audience pleasing stroke of genius. Nighy, who looks as though he has tottered onto the set still pissed from the wrap party of another film (an update of The Tempest perhaps, set on a council estate in Bury and in which he plays a genial, amnesiac Prospero) plays the God Hephaestus as a sprightly Northerner with poor short term memory but plenty of long term recall for a misspent youth (“Zeus showed me how to seduce Mermaids…handy that!”). It’s a performance that shouldn’t work, it should stand out like a sore thumb unbalancing the rest of the film and scream at the critic to scream at him for doing this…but it actually works splendidly thanks to his pitch-perfect comic timing and the fact that the other performers also belong on another film set (Pike from the hockey fields at an indeterminate but frightfully expensive private school in a generic British period drama; Kebbell from an episode of Eastenders etc).

The jokes continue in the unintentionally, joyously funny dialogue; when Worthington has to square up with his half-brother, amidst dozens of Titans killing hundreds of fellow soldiers, he says to Pike with the utmost solemnity: “Keep them off me”. Neeson and his estranged brother Hades (Fiennes) prepare to confront their all-powerful father by saying “Lets have some fun…like in the old days” (the old, old days presumably). The immortal bros later combine their powers in a Ghostbusters “Cross Streams!” finale.

Worthington’s gruff, whispering monotony contributed in no small part to the snooze fest that Clash became and he seems more tiresome here, so hats off again to the top drawer supporting cast for helping prick the audience’s attention.

Filmed in 3D, the technology is magically realised in a key number of arresting scenes: a roller-coaster ride through the mantle of the Earth with boulders flying straight toward you and a dizzyingly designed labyrinth to Tartarus, the underground prison. Thankfully, the audience is given plenty of time away from these moments to right themselves and avoid the nausea that 3D can create.

(P.S. many thanks to my good friend and classics master Katie Taylor for some helpful comments along the way)!

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The Debt (2010)

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Director: John Madden.

Marv/Pioneer (15)

DRAMA

Producer: Eitan Evan, Eduardo Rossof, Krys Thykier, Matthew Vaughan. Writers: Matthew Vaughan, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Thomas Newman. Sets Jim Clay.

Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, Ciaran Hinds, Jesper Christensen, Romi Aboulafia.

SYNOPSIS

A ménage a trois develops between Mossad agents Chastain, Worthington and Csokas when they are charged with capturing a notorious Nazi war criminal and bringing him to trial in Israel. Years later, as Chastain’s daughter Aboulafia launches a book about their heroic act, a dark secret between this now mature group (Mirren, Wilkinson and Hinds) surfaces that threatens to wrench them apart.

REVIEW

Goldman and Vaughan, if nothing else, have a wide range of interests when it comes to making movies. From the tongue-in-cheek fantasy of Stardust, the blockbuster comic books Kick-Ass! and X-Men: First Class to this, a remake of an obscure 2007 Israeli drama that is about as serious as you can get, they certainly get around the block in terms of genre. Here, they persuasively explore the rocky foundations on which hero worship can be built.

The Debt is a little like a revisionist Marathon Man, but although it lacks that film’s scenes of extended dental torture, it more than makes up for it as the vile and unrepentant Nazi Christensen (clearly based on Josef Mengele) is force-fed gruel for what seems like the entire of the middle part of the movie. It’s during these sequences that the script comes to life as Christensen uses psychology to divide the group and conquer and utters distasteful anti-semitism.

Christensen adds further grit to an already superlative raft of performances from a cannily cast group of actors. Mirren and hot young thing of the moment Chastain (The Tree of Life, The Help) were clearly chosen not just for their acting but also their close physical resemblance, though it is more of a stretch making us believe that the relatively diminutive Worthington would grow up to be the strapping Hinds. The characters’ nationality also gives the cast a chance to flex their chameleon vocal talents.

Madden, a director who has achieved some success with thoughtful drama (Mrs Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) was a sure hand for a difficult subject matter, but still manages to inject some startlingly gruesome moments (we open with a man being run over in bone-crunching detail) and stomach-knotting tension (catching the Nazi doctor; and the surprise climax will have you on the edge of your seat).