WRATH OF THE TITANS

By Ron David

Published March 30, 2012

“Wrath of the Titans” is about as soulless a film that has ever come out of the big budget Hollywood blockbuster machine.  That’s not to say it is necessarily the worst thing ever committed to film or that it doesn’t have plenty of company, but it alone provides sufficient evidence of the sort of homogenized studio product – a film so devoid of any heart, originality, or personality that has literally been produced rather than created – Hollywood is constantly being lambasted for churning out in order to make money rather than art.  Movies as product, especially in the summer movie season (or in this case, pre-summer movie season) are nothing new.  You can throw a rock at a theater marque and hit any number of titles that exist simply as part of a money-making machine, rather than some kind of labor of love for all involved.  And that’s OK to a degree.  Not all films need to be important or even thought provoking.  Spectacle for spectacle’s sake has its place in mainstream entertainment.  But some films are so obvious in their lack of ideas and creativity that it becomes clear they exist as nothing more than part of an operation.  “Wrath of the Titans” feels exactly like the cold and calculated business decision it is.  The movie has no wit, no humor, no inspiration, no purpose beyond the fact that the first film made money so maybe this one will too; nevermind that the first one was hardly widely beloved, or that even most fans of the original weren’t exactly waiting on pins and needles for a sequel.

What “Wrath of the Titians” lacks in originality, point and any sense of genuine fun, it tries to make up for with special effects.  This is another “blockbuster” in which the audience is hammered mercilessly over the head with obnoxious (and obvious) CGI.  Anytime the movie can’t wring something resembling true emotion or excitement out of the lump of Velveeta that is this script – which is pretty much all the time – it attempts to compensate with a lot of showy SFX in hopes that they will distract the film’s target audience, or at least remind them, “Hey, you signed up for a movie about big, lava-spewing Hell Gods; you don’t need this pussy shit like emotional involvement and a coherent narrative; right, you little bitch?!”  Since “Wrath of the Titans” doesn’t seem to give enough of a shit to provide the audience with a story, I’m tempted not to waste my time trying to provide one either.  More than simple resentment, I’m not sure I could accurately summarize whatever the hell is going on this mess even if I wanted to try.  But I wouldn’t be the bigger man if I sat here criticizing this piece of studio hack-work only to stoop to its level.  So I’ll give it the old college try (which is a damn sight more effort than anyone working on this movie bothered to offer).  If you saw the first film you might recall the half-god/half-human Perseus (Sam Worthington, again looking like someone razzed him from a deep sleep and reminded him he agreed to make this movie, for some reason) has some daddy (Zeus, played by Liam Neeson; and no, still no one knows why he’s in these films) issues.  Here, it turns out ol’ Uncle Hades (Ralph Fiennes, again WTF?) is a much bigger dick than pops though.  Hades kidnaps Zeus in order to – now don’t laugh – sacrifice him to Perseus’ grandpa, a gigantic lava-slinging creature (supreme dick!) that basically serves as this movie’s version of the Kraken.  So it’s up to Perseus to save the day.  There’s a lot more convoluted plot detours and needless supporting characters in the mix, but not much beyond this matters (or makes sense), it’s just the ramblings of the five writers who worked on this all trying to cram their ideas in somewhere and (wrongly) assuming more plot, more characters and more bullshit will make up for the glaring lack of genuine story, character development, and entertainment.

Normally when giving a negative review to this sort of BIG movie I’d say something along the lines of, “you can tell it’s trying to be more epic than it manages”.  But I don’t think that’s the case here.  “Wrath of the Titans” has all the benchmarks of a big-budget, Gods and Monsters, summer movie event, but it doesn’t feel like it tries and simply misses the mark, it doesn’t even seem to be trying at all.  In a film like “Transformers” for instance, no, it’s not very good, but there is sense that a lot of time and effort and creative ideas went into making it, (well, not into writing it, but at least the technical movie-making  – the spectacle – part).  “Wrath of the Titans” feels cheap and bland by comparison.  No doubt its CGI cost plenty, but the film lacks any sense of style, wonder, or distinctive look and flavor.  The world can say what it will about Michael Bay, but the man is as much in love with the shots he stages and creates as he is with himself (“and that’s an awful lot gurrrl”).  He jerks off to how painstakingly he sets up an explosion or chase sequence.  A movie like “Wrath of the Titans”, while on the surface it may look like the same sort of thing to a cynic,  feels like the work of someone who said, “who cares, we’ll fix it in post; add a few more CGI monsters and a lot of noise, no one will ever know”.  Nothing is done painstakingly.  Nothing is created.  Nothing but soulless studio product.

1 star out of 4.

RAMPART

 

By Ron David

Published March 30th, 2012

Tales of cops with questionable moral codes, substance abuse problems and – consequently – the shitty home lives that result in the wake of their self-destructive behavior are a dime a dozen.  For audiences to even consider laying down hard-earned money for such a film, they need to know it will offer more than they can get for free on any given episode of any given TV cop drama.

“Rampart” is a film any movie-goer not born yesterday has no doubt seen dozens of times before.  This in itself is not necessarily a problem, but generally speaking if you are going to take an audience on a journey to somewhere they’ve already been, you should take a different path, or at least make sure the scenery changes.  Not only does “Rampart” fail to do so, it fails to try, or simply doesn’t care to.  The movie is content to be a character study – no more, no less.  But we already know this character.  As a result, the film literally goes nowhere.

Woody Harrelson stars as Dave Brown, an old school sort of head-crackin’ cop in LA’s notorious Rampart division. Now stop me if you’ve heard this one:  Brown is a racist, a misogynist, an alcoholic and a dinosaur in a police department that is being forced to become much more PC in the wake of several human rights-violating scandals and crackdown on the cops at the root of such corruption.  As luck would have it, Brown also has a short fuse and a knack for constantly being in the wrong place at the wrong time, all of which puts him in Internal Affairs’ cross hairs.

The role is pure cliche, but Harrelson plays Brown with conviction and a stirring sense of bewilderment.  This guy simply does not understand why the things he does are wrong, why his family and co-workers are giving up on him, and why he can’t be happy.  It’s a performance that is by turns macho and sympathetic.  But this too, Harrelson’s talents notwithstanding, is nothing new.  That the film takes place in the late 90s, a time when the Rampart division corruption scandal that followed in the wake of cultural black-eyes like The Rodney King beating and subsequent LA riots was an event of the recent past, hardly matters at all.  In a sense, “Rampart” feels like a relic of the 90s, like so many films of its ilk that came out in the years following those events.  A decade and a half later time has done nothing for the story, as “Rampart” still fails to find a way to distinguish itself from the pack.

There is some good supporting work from Sigourney Weaver as a PR-concerned D.A., Robin Wright as a lawyer Brown falls for who may be as screwed up as he is, Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche as sisters who both have been married to Brown, know he is poison, yet can’t seem to shake themselves free of him, and in a bit of inspired casting, Ice Cube – whose LA-based solo rap career was thriving in the early ’90s as these events were taking place – as an Internal Affairs officer investigating Brown.  But none of these characters are fully developed.  Some are introduced too late to make much of an impression, others introduced earlier are never seen again or make only sporadic appearances.

“Rampart” was directed by Oren Moverman who led Harrelson to an Oscar nomination with their last collaboration, 2010’s “The Messenger”.  Both film’s feature a strong lead performance from the star, but here Harrelson does more for Moverman’s film, than Moverman’s film does for Harrelson.  It is a performance quite simply worthy of a better movie.

The plight of the self-destructive, authority-abusing cop would not be the well-worked cliche it has become if there weren’t something inherently fascinating about it.  Audiences will follow these tortured souls down similar paths again and again, because films that deal with these characters successfully can be profoundly moving, shocking and cathartic.  They can also feel tired and workman-like, as if they have nothing new to offer the audience or add to the genre.  “Rampart”, unfortunately, is the later.

2 stars out of 4.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

By Ron David

Published February 17, 2012

I’ll confess I don’t really know exactly what the hell was going on in “Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance”.  Something about the Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage) having to rescue a young boy who’s to be sacrificed at the witching hour in some holy temple so an otherwise hell-bound baddie can do the ol’ body switcheroo with the kid.  Why that particular kid at that particular time and place, I don’t really remember.  It doesn’t matter.  “Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance” is a mess.  And not an entertaining, embracing-its-awfulness mess, but just a big old incoherent, steamy lump of bland, moldy cheese.  The first film had problems of this sort as well:  It had tonal issues and lackluster SFX that rendered sequences that were supposed to be either scary or suspenseful simply laughable.  But you could at least make the argument it worked on some hilariously bad, campy level (I wouldn’t, but you could).  This sequel, while better looking and more energized (thanks to the directing duo Neveldine/Taylor who gave us the exercises in restraint that were the “Crank” films), has the feel of someone trying to make a better movie and simply failing.  Though no reasonable person should have had high hopes for “Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance” going in, there is enough talent behind and in front of the camera (including “The Dark Knight” scribe David S. Goyer as one of the film’s three writers) to wonder what exactly went wrong.  I could offer theories, beginning with the fact that Ghost Rider wasn’t a great comic to begin with or perhaps its one that simply does not translate well to film (I mean really, a daredevil biker from hell with a flaming skull head – and this guy is the hero – who can take that seriously?), but ultimately it comes down to the fact that there is a lot of noise, explosions, over-the-top action sequences and convoluted backstory and plot details, but nothing resembling a character or story audiences will care a lick about.  Cage gets in a few of his trademark, scene-stealing manic deliveries, but it’s obvious he’s just cashing a paycheck; and there are some admittedly funny lines (though far more fall with crashing thud) and razzle-dazzle set pieces, but none of this makes up for the lumbering bore of a cliched story and headache-inducing experience that is “Ghost Rider:  Spirit of Vengeance”.

1 star out of 4.