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Movie Reviews: Greenberg and Clash of the Titans

Greenberg

If you’ve been following the career of writer/director Noah Baumbach, you probably already know if you’re going to like Greenberg, his paean to LA. At first the movie seems like it might be about Florence Marr, the personal assistant to the high-powered Greenberg family who lives in the Hollywood Hills. And, based on Greta Gerwig’s hyper-natural performance as Florence, you’ll wish it was.

But Ben Stiller, who plays the neurotic, ex-musician brother who comes to occupy the house when the family departs, and who strikes up what might charitably be described as a romance with Florence, is not altogether bad. His character’s self-absorption just sucks everything in the plot towards him, like a narcissistic black hole. Blocked from playing Ben Stiller, for once, Ben Stiller turns in a competent Salingeresque character study of a lost soul, someone who increasingly has less and less in common with his friends, who are all moving on from the past.

The movie has plenty going for it, including some rich visual metaphors – an unspecified dead thing fished out of the pool, a dog with an immune disorder, a fan-powered orange dancing man – and the usual acerbic Baumbach dialogue. No, it doesn’t have the unity that The Squid and the Whale had, but it is far more watchable than Margot at the Wedding. While the movie doesn’t really earn its maudlin turn, I walked out happy anyway. I can think of very few American filmmakers who are still working in the rich soil of character studies, so well-tilled in the 70’s and early 80’s in movies like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Five Easy Pieces. Baumbach doesn’t judge his characters, even as they harshly judge each other. I’m inclined to do the same, and just let Greenberg be Greenberg.

Clash of the Titans (Dolby Digital 3D at the Vista Theater on Sunset)

I didn’t really want to see Clash of the Titans, because the trailer was ridiculous (“Titans… will… clash!”) and because I had heard bad things about the last-minute dimentionalization, thanks to executives at Warner Bros.’ eyes glazing over with money signs after seeing the grosses for Avatar. They realized they could make what Variety calls ‘additional coin’ by doing a quickie 3D process after the film was already in the can.

Well, all I can say is, if you see this movie in one way, it should be with some of the worst 3D in modern times. Characters literally look like there’s another person walking just behind them, and not in perfect sync. And guess what… that works for this movie.

I’m no fan of the original. While I appreciate the amazing stop-motion animation, the plot put me to sleep. I’m not exaggerating, both Lillian and I fell asleep while watching it when we rented it a few months ago. The new Clash wisely jettisons most of the original’s plot, and even throws some favorite elements (the mechanical owl) in the trash heap. Instead, we get an easy-to-follow plot about Man rebelling against the Gods (with bonus metaphorical resonance to the present day) and the demi-god Perseus, who is caught in the middle.

The lines are silly and sometimes downright cheeseball, and the action, while often hard to follow, is at least accomplished with panache and some stylish visual effects by director Louis Leterrier and his team. (The bombastic score by Ramin Djawadi and the gut-shaking sound design deserve non-ironic high marks.) That’s why I say this movie is enjoyable. Some of the moments are so ridiculous, you simply have to laugh. Zeus (Liam Neeson) wears armor with an excessive amount of digital sparkle and Perseus (Sam Worthington, not in Avatar anymore) reacts to every bit of news with the same stoic expression until the final moments of the film, when his father turns out to be the ‘pimp of all pimps’ and he manages a sheepish expression that, in the moment, verges on hilarious camp.

I don’t fault Worthington. A more sensitive director would have coached his performance into more nuance. For example, there is a moment in the movie where Perseus gives a rousing speech. Worthington, whose character has never been eloquent, starts the speech in full St. Crispin’s Day mode. Instead, the director should have asked him to work up to it; start sheepish, and through the speech let us see him assuming his leadership mantle.

Oh, and don’t expect this movie to be any more reverent to Greek mythology than the original. The only Gods on Mount Olympus seem to be Poseidon, Hades and Zeus. The others are just extras, who get beamed up Star Trek-style when Zeus and Hades want to have a heart-to-heart. You won’t find djinn in Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology; try the Arabian Nights.

Former Bond girl Gemma Atherton plays Io, another demi-god who is Perseus’ love interest in the film. The traditional Io was the love interest of Zeus, and was turned into a cow. In the movie, Io is a protectress of Perseus and “cursed” to live forever. Her real job is to look sexy tussling with Perseus in the bowels of a boat on the river Styx, when they are interrupted by another member of their band of warriors. In the movie’s biggest laugh-out-loud moment, with a line which I have been repeating continuously to crack myself up since I saw the film last night, one of the hero’s companions walks in on the pair in a suggestive position: “Cough, cough. Ahem, we are approaching Medusa’s lair. Cough, cough.” Well, maybe you just have to see it.

The only thing I wish is that the movie had more moments like this. That’s why I’m recommending the crappy 3D, preferably with a theater audience who can also appreciate its silly horribleness. When you see a person’s head wiggling around in 3D space, it reminds you not to take this movie seriously. Just as the Gods overthrew the Titans, this remake overthrows the stuffiness of the original and stuffs it full of fun, flashy camp. As far as I’m concerned, the Warner executives who greenlit the rush-job 3D are geniuses.

1 Comment

  1. That line about Medusa’s lair is absolutely the highlight of the movie. It’s delivered completely wrong but, due just to laziness I imagine, it was left in. Clearly the guy is supposed to say it like he’s embarrassed and he needs to notify them that they’re arriving but instead the way he says it completely makes you realize the absurdity of the entire situation. Like what’s going through his mind is the same thing that at least should be going the the mind of the audience. Namely, “Are these guys actually hooking up on the ferry ride across the river Styx while on the way to kill Medusa?” Almost made sitting through that piece of garbage worthwhile.

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