August 2010

Clash of the Titans  •  Triage  •  A Single Man  •  James and the Giant Peach

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Clash of the Titans

clash of the titans dvd boxThe 1981 Greek mythology epic Clash of the Titans is hardly a masterpiece. It has a campy sincerity and Ray Harryhausen’s fabulous special effects, but that’s about all. Remaking it wasn’t a bad idea, if someone could have come up with a decent script and made good use of current technology.

Neither of those things happened. Louis Leterrier, who directed the mediocre Incredible Hulk reboot, continues to aim for the middle in this “reimagining.” Sam Worthington is a great choice for the hero, Perseus, who embarks on a quest to prevent the gods from unleashing the terrible Kraken on the upstart city of Argos. With his crew of warriors, he battles Medusa, giant scorpions and other computer-generated threats before the noisy final battle.

The screenplay flirts with interesting ideas, as Perseus wrestles with his identity as a half-divine son of Zeus (a sleepwalking Liam Neeson), while the gods themselves argue over their role in humanity’s affairs. Most of this content goes nowhere, however, and we’re left with characters that seem to change personalities every other scene.

It’s the action and FX that really matter in a movie like this. The 2D version on DVD is slightly better than the awful 3D conversion that played in theatres, but it’s still visually dull and badly edited. There’s no charm or creativity to be found here. Whatever else the original lacked, it had those qualities in abundance.

Extras: Some added scenes; the Blu-Ray has the real bonuses, with a “Maximum Movie Mode” picture-in-picture feature that functions as a sort of visual commentary track; there are also several making-of docs, deleted scenes and an alternate ending. (PG-13) Rating: 2 stars —LL


Triage

Triage DVD coverBosnian director Danis Tanovic won an Oscar for his terrifying and occasionally morbidly funny No Man’s Land. That film was consistently engrossing because its claustrophobic environment and its narrow but compelling subject matter.

His new film Triage is painted with a much wider palette and feels as Tanovic has tried to pack too much into its 99-minute running time. On the plus side, it’s refreshing to see Colin Farrell move from being a tabloid fixture to becoming a first-rate actor. He stars as Mark Walsh, a photojournalist who has just returned to Dublin from a harrowing assignment in Iraqi Kurdistan during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Conditions are so awful that the Kurdish doctor (nicely played by Branko Djuric, the star of No Man’s Land) accompanying the rebels uses a pistol to euthanize any patients too far gone for treatment

Oddly, the ambitious Mark returns back home to his wife Elana (Paz Vega, Sex and Lucia), but his more cautious colleague David (Jamie Sives) hasn’t returned even though his spouse is about to give birth. Mark tries in vain to hide his physical and psychological wounds, so Elana recruits her estranged grandfather Dr. Morales (Christopher Lee) to treat him. She and her father haven’t talked until recently because she’s outraged at the fact that he treated Fascists after they had committed atrocities in the Spanish Civil War. Nonetheless, having lived through the war, he’s the only person who can empathize with Mark.

The psychological drama is abrupt and thin. It’s a stretch to buy the very English Lee as a Spaniard, but he has the right blend of urbane charm and creeping menace for the role. It’s initially hard to tell if Dr. Morales is treating or tormenting Mark. It’s the 88-year-old Lee’s juiciest role in ages, and watching him play off with Farrell is easily worth enduring the shortcomings in Triage.

Extras: A “making-of” featurette, cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage. (R) Rated: 3.5 —DL


A Single Man

A single Man DVD coverA movie directed by a fashion designer could just be an exercise in style over substance, but Tom Ford’s debut behind the camera has emotional beauty to match its glossy appearance.

Colin Firth plays George, a college professor who can no longer cope with the grief of his longtime partner’s death. George is gay, and since the story takes place in 1962, he must keep his feelings as closely guarded as his sexuality. Crushed by both burdens, George decides to end his own life, and the film follows him on what he intends to be his last day on earth.

It is, of course, an unusually eventful day, and Firth’s steady presence anchors the drama.  The actor has always been adept at playing serious, slightly repressed Englishmen, but rarely does he get to display the subtleties contained in this role.  By turns confident and terrified, cold and passionate, George is a fully human character in a cinematic world with too many shallow “types.” He is matched by the small supporting cast, which includes Julianne Moore as a longtime friend with feelings for this man she can never have.

With Ford at the helm, A Single Man is guaranteed to look gorgeous, from the costumes to the glowing cinematography. But there’s so much more to making a great film, and Ford has a grasp of every element. Even when it slows to a crawl (and it occasionally does), this is one of the richest experiences 2009 had to offer.

Extras: A commentary track by Ford & a behind-the-scenes doc, on both the standard and Blu-Ray versions. (R) Rating: 4.5 —LL


James and the Giant Peach

James and the Gaint Peach DVD CoverThis 1996 adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s story seemed a bit disappointing when it first came out but looks far better on a second viewing. The title character (Paul Terry) is a miserable lad who suffers under the tyranny of his two cruel aunts (Miriam Margolyes, Joanna Lumley).

When a mysterious stranger (Pete Postlethwaite) hands the boy a bag of magic contents, James accidentally pours them under a dead peach tree which begins to grow a freakishly large piece of fruit. James hides inside the Winnebago-sized peach and makes friends with the human-sized bugs and worms that are living inside. Together, they figure out how to make the peach into a transatlantic vehicle and head for New York.

Thanks to Henry Selick’s (Coraline) expert stop motion animation and Lane Smith’s (The Stinky Cheese Man) charming designs, it’s easy to believe that a piece of fruit can make an ideal home for James that his aunts cannot. Oddly, the film begins and ends with awkward live action sequences when the whimsical story would have worked better in Selick and Tim Burton’s (who served as a producer) animated dream world.

The filmmakers nail Dahl’s unique blend of fright and fancy. There are also some flashes of wit that would have made the author proud. When the feisty Centipede (a perfectly cast Richard Dreyfuss) commits an act of altruistic bravery, the suave Grasshopper (Simon Callow) declares, “He’s committed pesticide!”

Susan Sarandon and David Thewlis also make memorable turns as critters in the peach, and Randy Newman’s rich, eclectic and Oscar-nominated songs and score are definitely worth revisiting. Viewed for second time, James and the Giant Peach now has more taste and nutrition.

Extras: The new edition comes in a joint DVD/Blu-Ray packet. The DVD has behind the scenes footage, a music video of Newman and the original trailer. The Blu-Ray disc comes with a video game titled “Spike the Aunts.” (PG) Rating: 4 —DL

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.