Clash of the Titans | An Education

Cinema reviews for April 15
Clash of the Titans

Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Tine Stapelfeldt, Mads Mikkelsen, Luke Evans, Izabella Miko, Liam Cunningham, Hans Matheson, Ashraf Barhom, Mouloud Achour, Ian Whyte, Nicholas Hoult, Vincent Regan, Polly Walker, Katherine Loeppky, Luke Treadaway, Pete Postlethwaite, Elizabeth McGovern. Written by Travis Beacham and Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi, based on the 1981 movie written by Beverley Cross.

1981´s Clash of the Titans, directed by Desmond Davis and starring Laurence Olivier as Zeus, was a campy and largely forgotten retelling of the legend of Perseus, best remembered today as the last major film to feature Ray Harryhausen´s fantastic stop-motion creature effects. What better tribute to the visual effects master than a messy remake full of nonstop CGI?

So Louis Leterrier´s remake, which features computer-generated monsters like the kraken, medusa, and giant scorpions, doesn´t quite have the charm of the original. But that´s OK; the CGI here is as accomplished as it needs to be, Leterrier handles the action competently, and it´s fun to see a semi-serious attempt at Greek mythology in major Hollywood blockbuster.

The one real problem with this Clash of the Titans is the script, which suffers from that big-budget too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen syndrome. The resulting film is an unfortunate mess in terms of narrative thread, character development, and overall theme. Writers Travis Beacham, Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi are credited with the final product, but they may not be completely at fault; apparently, the film was completely retooled in post-production (which included a conversion to 3D – see 3D note below).

One more thing about the screenplay: I´m not up to speed on all my Greek mythology, but this version of the Perseus story – despite keeping the monsters and names – bares little semblance to the classic tale. I can see why they wouldn´t want to stick to the 1981 film, but why the filmmakers try to completely re-invent this story through a conventional modern narrative, when they have this wonderful source material at their disposal that has been told and retold and proven itself over the last 2500 years, well, that I cannot explain.

In 2010´s Clash of the Titans, Perseus is played by Sam Worthington, fresh off Avatar and Terminator Salvation and as out of place here as Harry Hamlin was in the original. Not that he´s bad: whatever Worthington´s failures as an actor may be (and he hasn´t exactly had the chance to display range in these his high-profile roles), he´s a legitimate movie star, with all the requisite charm and swagger that entails. While his buzz cut, clean cut appearance doesn´t exactly match that of his costars, his attractive, inherently likable presence in the lead role grounds the movie.

Liam Neeson plays Zeus, who´s fed up with mankind´s disobedience and allows brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to put some fear back into the residents of Argos (Danny Huston is the third brother, Poseidon, in a role that must´ve ended up on the cutting room floor). Hades kills off Perseus´ adoptive family (for no reason whatsoever) before threatening to unleash the deadly Kraken unless upon the city unless the residents make a sacrifice of the beautiful princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

So Perseus sets out to kill Hades as revenge for killing his family (the, uh, impossibility of killing an immortal god notwithstanding), and maybe he´ll save Argos and Andromeda on his way. That doesn´t sound quite right, but that´s what we have here, as a variety of ideas converge into senselessness. We´ve also got Io (Gemma Arterton) as a bizarre love interest for Perseus (his love interest should be Andromeda, but she´s all but forgotten here), which I nevertheless enjoyed for the awkward and unusual relationship between Perseus and Io; that and Arterton and Worthington have some real chemistry together.

This all sets up the one aspect of Clash of the Titans that really works, a long and adventurous midsection that sees Perseus fighting alongside a group of Argos warriors led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) on a quest that will eventually lead them to the gorgon Medusa. The camaraderie between Perseus and the warriors, the creatures they meet along their journey, and multiple fight scenes comprise almost all of the film´s (not inconsiderate) value. It´s a mess, yeah, but there´s some fun to be had.

3D Note: Clash of the Titans is playing in 2D and 3D versions on Prague screens; both versions are in English with Czech subtitles. However, the 3D version of Clash – which was converted during post-production (the film was originally shot and conceived in 2D) – was widely panned as an unsatisfying rush job. I made a point to catch the 2D version, which the above review refers to.



An Education

Directed by Lone Scherfig. Starring Carey Mulligan, Olivia Williams, Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour, Matthew Beard, Peter Sarsgaard, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Ellie Kendrick, Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Emma Thompson, Sally Hawkins. Written by Nick Hornby, from the memoir by Lynn Barber.

A terrific little coming-of-age tale, An Education also serves as a showcase for the vibrant, delightful Carey Mulligan. Lone Scherfig´s film – and her leading actress – were darlings of the 2009 award season, and for good reason: this quiet, nuanced recreation of UK journalist Lynn Barber´s memoir strikes a resonant emotional chord.

In 1961 Britain, 16 year-old schoolgirl Jenny (Mulligan) is waiting for the bus after a recital, getting drenched by rain. A man pulls up to her in a sporty car and rolls down the window. “If you had any sense you wouldn’t take a lift from a stranger, but I’m a music lover and I’m worried about your cello,” he begins. “So what I propose is you put it in my car and walk along beside me.”

The man is David, he´s around 40, and he´s a charmer. Jenny is initially wary, but after they bump into each other again he wears down her defenses. A relationship between a man of 40 and girl of 16 is certainly taboo these days, perhaps less so then. Jenny takes David home to meet her strict parents, played by Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour, and he´s able to charm them as well. They give him their blessing to take Jenny out to a concert as long as she´s back by 11:30.

This is unhealthy, we know, but David is played by Peter Sarsgaard, among the most sensitive actors imaginable: he´s almost able to charm us, too. Jenny plans to go to Oxford, but she´s seduced by the lifestyle that David represents (and not so much David himself; there´s precious little romance between them), by expensive cars and trips to Paris; he may not be completely on the level in his shady business dealings, but he seems to be on the level with her.

The first 80 or so minutes of An Education are pitch-perfect: thoughtful, deliberate, yet deeply engaging. The last ten or 15 minutes are less than perfect, and that´s my one qualm here. There´s a revelation towards the end, and then a brisk turnaround, and we feel “that´s an easy out” and “that doesn´t feel quite right.” That these events really happened is no consolation: the ending is rushed and feels unnatural.

But that´s only because everything before it felt so right. Scherfig, a Danish director best known for the Dogme ´95 entry Italian for Beginners and the English-language, Glasgow-set Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, has a wonderful sense of screen composition and the little things here – the framing, the placement of actors, the muted color palette – really elevate the film from what could have felt conventional.

But the real story here is Mulligan. Comparisons to Audrey Hepburn are apt: she´s positively luminescent, with those incredibly wise eyes and a vibrant, youthful spirit. She has that special quality that draws in our sympathy almost against our will, even as we watch her character make all the wrong decisions.

I cannot imagine another actress succeeding in this role to the degree that Mulligan has here, and screenwriter Nick Hornby couldn´t have predicted her either: he shifts some of the blame to the father played by Molina, lest we think “silly girl, she gets what she deserves.” But it wasn´t necessary, as we stand by Mulligan´s Jenny all the way.

It helps, of course, that she´s surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, including a magnetic Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as David´s friends, Olivia Williams as Jenny´s teacher, and Emma Thompson as the headmistress. All make an impression. Only Molina, broadly playing an underwritten character, feels out of place.

You can read an excellent excerpt from Barber´s memoir here, though if you plan to see the film I´d recommend watching first.

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