11 posts categorized "action-adventure"


'Batman v Superman' -- Superheroes, superbattle, superboredom

Why can't these guys just get along? (Courtesy: Warner Bros.)

Look, up on the screen, it’s Superman and Batman!

On second thought, don’t bother.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the umpteenth Batman or Superman big screen adventure, is straight out of the What Else Can We Contrive to Make Big Bucks Department.

Two DC Comics superheroes battling and rolling around in the mud with the ferocity of teeth-clinched, squabbling presidential candidates?  At first I didn’t get it all.  After a little research, it seems that the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have gone at it before in the comic book pages.

A lot of times, in fact.  But now that I get it, I don’t want it.

Ben Affleck, who can act despite some poor project choices (Gigli, Jersey Girl), does all he can for a guy trapped behind a Batman mask and limited to a seething guttural growl most of the time.  Batman to Superman: “Tell me, do you bleed?  You will.”

British actor Henry Cavill, back in the cape and with a big S on his chest after Man of Steel, has the chiseled facial features commonly associated with Superman.  Cavill’s lack of even a trace of facial flexibility, however, makes me think of him more as The Man of Rock.

This film’s two best actors, Amy Adams (American Hustle) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), do all they can to make the most of their screen time.  In a film where digital set pieces dominate, though, Lois Lane (Adams) and a young Lex Luthor (Eisenberg) are used merely as brief buffers to move things along to the next mega-rumble in the cement jungles of Metropolis and Gotham City.    

Honestly, I even cringe a little at the title.  Batman v Superman?  Are we to believe this is some kind of legal battle before the Supreme Court?  Nope, just a little clever title trickery from our friends in Hollywood, who, by the way, would like very much for you to spend your money and one tick over two and a-half hours of your life watching Batman and Superman throw each other through walls in the rain.

Zack Snyder (300), back in the Superguy director’s chair after Man of Steel three years ago, does an OK job of stringing together explosive special-effects set pieces.  But’s that’s all we’ve got here, except for a little monster mashing that’s been done often and better in other fight-to-the-finish extravaganzas like the Transformers franchise.

I’m thinking the best battles may have occurred in the writer’s room.  Hard to believe, I know, but there may have been one.  Chris Terrio, an Academy Award winner for his Argo script, which starred Affleck in 2012, and Davis S. Goyer, who penned Man of Steel and other Batman flicks, are credited as screenwriters here.

If you’re hoping for even a trace of character depth, plot development or more than a smattering of dialogue to explain what the fuss is all about, don’t bother looking in this sky or lighting up the Bat Signal.

Call this one Batman v Superman:  Yawn of Justice.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (violent action, some sensuality)

151 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  1½ (out of 4)


The new 'X-Men' has class, 'First Class'

Back before sequelitis hit epidemic proportions in Hollywood in the 1980s with the "Halloween," "Lethal Weapon" and "Indiana Jones" franchises, it was pretty much one-and-done for most big-budget movie stories.

Today's audiences, quite familiar with sequels, are witnessing the next step in prolonging bottom-line profit for tent-pole (blockbuster) flicks:  prequels.

The "Star Trek" and "Batman" franchises pulled off the out-with-the-old (tired stories, highly paid actors)-in-with-the-new (fresh stories, rising stars not yet demanding top dollar) re-tooling well enough.

Now comes the "X-Men" reboot, which I must tell you, is more fun and better conceived than most.

Gone are Patrick Stewart as telepath Charles Xavier/Professor X and Ian McKellen as Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto, of course.  Three treks around the mutant trail were enough for them, or for the filmmakers.  (See above about star salaries.)

James McAvoy (Xavier) and Michael Fassbender (Magneto) head the cast in "X-Men:  First Class," an ambitious, well-mounted origin sci-fi adventure sure to please comic book and franchise movie fans with equal fist-pumping approval.

That's because "First Class" lives up to its subtitle all the way.  The ensemble cast of mutants, beginning with McAvoy ( "The Last King of Scotland," "Atonement") and Fassbender ("Inglourious Basterds," "300") and continuing with Jennifer Lawrence (an Oscar nominee for "Winter's Bone") as shape-shifting Raven/Mystique and Kevin Bacon ("Frost/Nixon") as one bad mutated World War II Nazi, is about as first class as a prequel can hope to be.

Without giving too much of the plot away, let's just say that it unfolds mostly in the 1960s, a time of racial (and mutant) prejudice and Cold War unease.

Director Matthew Vaughn ("Layer Cake," "Kick-Ass") and a handful of writers (including Vaughn and previous "X-Men" director Bryan Singer) weave the emergence of mutants into known human culture and the growing Cuban Missile Crisis seamlessly.

As I've written many times in this space, filmmakers taking on projects that require outlandish special effects are limited only by their levels of imagination in this age of computer-generated visual magic.

Like most -- no, make that all -- big-budget productions that pre-order eye-popping effects (an anchor chain cutting a luxury yacht in half, for instance) then try to form the story around the bedazzlement, this "X-Men" overdoes it a little.

Overall, though, this origin adventure should keep audience members on the edge of their seats.  McAvoy, the Scottish rising star, is quite playful at first as a twentysomething Charles Xavier of privilege.

Flip that coin over and German actor  Fassbender is equally effective as Erik Lehnsherr, the metal-bender who will, before this adventure concludes, be called Eric and reply, "I prefer Magneto."

I prefer "X-Men: First Class" to many of the prequels that have come down the cinematic pipeline.
"First Class" is at the head of the 21st century reboot class from this aisle seat.


'Hornet's buzz is all wrong, but enjoyable

I got a kick out of "The Green Hornet" for the very reason fanboy comic book geeks and devotees of the former radio drama, serial feature and TV series won't.

In the hands of Seth Rogen, a formerly chubby big screen comic schlub who stars and co-wrote the script, the "Hornet" aims its stinger primarily at the funny bone.

I'm pretty sure that if offbeat French director Michel Gondry ("Human Nature," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") didn't pull back on the creative reins at times, Britt Reid (Rogen) and his gadget guru/weapons creator/coffee chef Kato (Jay Chou) might just hang around the Los Angeles mansion and read comic books about themselves much of the time.

As it is, Britt, who inherits his recently and mysteriously deceased dad's (Tom Wilkinson) newspaper, is a playboy lout stunned into crime fighting as a way to get back at his old man.

Once Britt decides to fight crime, he has no idea what The Green Hornet should do.  So while he's hanging around his late dad's newspaper, Britt hires a new secretary (Cameron Diaz, who keeps hanging in there).  She thinks she's doing research, but actually she's calling Hornet shots.

Rogen and  Chou, an Asian pop music star, play off each other well.  The reason many of the fanboys even care about this big-screen adaptation of "The Green Hornet" is that chop-socky hero Bruce Lee played Kato during its one-season run on ABC in 1966/'67.

Chou, a singer not a martial arts guy, recreates Lee's cool demeanor.  From this aisle seat, though, Chou's lack of English language command dilutes some of the rhythmn of scenes.

The twist here is that Britt and Kato want their own niche for The Green Hornet and his unnamed sidekick.  So they pretend to be bad guys, irritating both the local authorities and L.A.'s unofficial crime lord, a dapper little ruthless guy named Benjamin Chudnofsky portrayed by Christoph Waltz.

If you're anything like me, you'll have to push Waltz's marvelous, Oscar-winning performance in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in '09 to the far reaches of the memory bank to enjoy what's going on here (pretty silly stuff).  

You should also know that although much is being hyped about "The Green Hornet" being presented in 3-D, that decision was made after principal photography was already in the can.  So the 3-D, with the exception of a fiery explosion or two, is no big whoop.

I may be all alone on this, but I like Rogen's laid-back, goofball turn as the title character.  In a stand-off between The Green Hornet, Batman and Spider-Man, the bat and the spider dude would probably laugh so hard they'd wet their spandex just looking at this masked avenger.

Don't go expecting a superhero flick you will reverently admire.  Go for a film that looks a lot like what a comic book-to-big screen conversion should usually look and feel like.

Just not this time, Seth.  Not that I mind, but the tight-lipped fanboys won't appreciate going for the gags.


Cruising for a bruising with Tom & Cameron

There's a lot to like about "Knight and Day," the high-octane starring vehicle for Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

The source material is the first element to admire.  This fast-paced three-step with romance, danger and comedy didn't evolve from someone's novel, or leap over tall buildings to get to the movie house from a comic book.  It didn't even morph from some computer geek's video game.

"Knight and Day" found life in something called a movie script.  Novel idea, that.

Screenwriter Patrick O'Neill, a former TV writer ("Dead Last"), came up with the story; a globe-trotting action-comedy about a mysterious secret agent who may or may not be the good guy and a civilian sucked into fast-paced, bullet-dodging danger via a seemingly random collision with a handsome stranger at an airport.

June Havens (Diaz) boards a plane in Wichita, Kan. to attend her sister's wedding in Boston.  That guy with the wide grin and the sunglasses from the earlier encounter is flirting a little with her.  So June excuses herself to go to the lavatory to sort things out.

When she returns to her seat, Roy Miller (Cruise), the suave guy, offers her a drink and the news that everyone on the plane is dead, including the pilots, and they are about to have an up-close and personal look at the cornfields of Indiana.

What follows is a series of spectacular action set pieces at various take-your-breath-away locales around the world from Austria to Seville.  The bad guys (or the real good guys?)  led by CIA agent Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard of "An Education") and Roy shoot it out and duke it out for control of a new, high-tech energy source.  

As if it's not enough to bring in Paul Dano (the brooding teen of "Little Miss Sunshine") as Simon, the brilliant young inventor, "Knight and Day" throws in Spanish star Jordi Mollà ("Blow," "Bad Boys II") as Antonio, a weapons kingpin.

With homage to classic globe-hopping adventures like "North by Northwest" and "Charade," "Knight and Day" goes through the exotic motions with a light heart and an itchy trigger-finger.

We can thank very good director James Mangold for the fact that it works.  Mangold injected vibrant new life into both the musical biopic and the Western with "Walk the Line" in 2005 and "3:10 to Yuma" two years later.  There's no secret ingredient to making a film like this work.  Just pair up two exceptional movie stars and hope that when you light the chemistry dynamite it goes off.

That formula only half-ignited when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie stepped in front of the camera as a bored married couple who (unbeknownst to each other) were also highly trained assassins in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (2005). 

Cruise and Diaz shared the screen in the decidedly different sci-fi thriller  "Vanilla Sky" in 2001.  They have a delicious rapport in this one.  They go about their sometimes silly business as the seasoned professionals they are.  I could do without the "varooming with the bulls" scene where Cruise (who loves to hop a Harley in his movies) and Diaz flee a stampede on a motorcycle.

Otherwise, "Knight and Day" rocks as a very good date movie with fast-action for the guys and romance for the ladies.


'Karate Kid' kicks into entertainment overdrive

"Wax on, wax off" morphs into "Jacket on, jacket off" in the successfully re-imagined "Karate Kid."

With all due respect to the late Pat Morita, who, as mentor Mr. Miyagi was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985, this redux has more entertainment kick than the original.

The new, 21st century "Karate Kid" may lack just a little in the master role featuring kung fu legend Jackie Chan.  It soars in others areas, though.  Sorry, Ralph Macchio, but Jaden Smith doesn't just go through the motions of a bullied kid-in-training to take on his tormentor in a martial arts tournament.

If case you missed Jaden on screen with his superstar dad Will Smith in the emotional drama "The Pursuit of Happyness" in 2006 or in the doomsday drama "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in 2008, know this.  Jaden Smith can act.

That's what makes the familiar, yet sufficiently reshaped story enjoyable for parents.  And despite a laborious running time of well over two hours, the new version, set primarily in China, has a stand-up-and-cheer finish for "Karate Kid" newbies; its target audience.

"The Karate Kid" retains the tone (somber) and theme (surrogate father/son bonding) of the 1980s franchise.  Thanks to a generally effective script by first timer Christopher Murphey, the basic idea is jump-kicked to a higher emotional level.

There's no need for director Harald Zwart ("The Pink Panther 2" remake) to explain the fact that popular Detroit kid Dre Parker (Smith) has no father figure in his life.  Just before single mother Sherry Parker (Oscar nominee of Taraji P. Henson) and reluctant son take a cab to the airport and board a flight to Beijing, Dre takes one last look at the pencil mark on the door frame noting the day his father died.

Dre lands on his feet in a strange foreign land.  Before the jet lag has even subsided, the dread-locked kid from the U.S. has caught the eye of a young violinist in the park.  Meiying (Wenwen Han) is obviously intrigued by this animated stranger.  In movies like this, however, the bully has already claimed the girl.

Dre takes several beatings from advanced kung fu student Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), who shows no mercy in combat.  Finally, the aging apartment handyman, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), steps in as protector.  Han turns out to be a secret kung fu master (with serious emotional baggage).  Once mentor and student hook up, the "Karate Kid" tale begins to glide along the track to a well-orchestrated ultimate showdown.

From this aisle seat, the secret weapon guiding this adventure to success is Jaden's dad Will, who, along with wife Jada Pinkett Smith, draws producer credit.  Will Smith is one of the sharpest minds in Hollywood.  Jaden, working exceptionally well opposite Chan, Han (the girl) and Wang (the bully), is amazingly prepared for the final reel fight scenes, as well as the comic and emotional training sessions that come before.

Chan, a master of acting as well as kung fu, injects the expected comic moments without overshadowing his dramatic scenes.

My only complaint about this well-crafted remake is that two hours and 20 minutes is too long to ask young kids to sit still for a drawn-out yarn, even if it does have a rousing finish.

'The A-Team': On the rogue again

Welcome to '80s Reboot Week at your neighborhood movie house.

Film-goers might just feel like they're in a time warp as they stroll multiplex hallways and see the re-imagined "Karate Kid" in one theater and a reconfigured "A-Team" in another.

It should surprise no one that "The A-Team" is a B-movie.

The campy TV action series that occupied NBC prime time from 1983 to 1987 provided an action fix, not logic.  The redux tones down the campy nature a little.  You'll never hear B.A., Mr. T's old character, growl, "I pity the fool," for instance.  Audiences are more sophisticated these days, according to the "A-Team" words of wisdom spun in the film's press notes.

This time we get nuance, if you'd like to call it that.  The first time B.A. batters bad guys with his fists, we notice the word "Pity" tattooed on the fingers of one hand and -- don't get ahead of me -- "Fool" on the other.

Mixed martial artist Quinton "Rampage" Jackson steps in as B.A., the A-Team wheel man who's in the wrong line of work to have a serious fear of flying.  At the center, though, is Liam Neeson as cigar-chomping leader and tactician Col.  John "Hannibal" Smith (the George Peppard role).  

Rising star Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover," "All About Steve") is Face, designated ladies man and sm-o-o-o-th talker.  Sharlto Copley, who sprang to the forefront from nowhere as Wikus in last year's "District 9," steps into the role of crazed-genius pilot "Howlin' Mad" Murdock.

Co-stars include excellent actor Patrick Wilson ("Watchmen") as mysterious CIA weasel Lynch, Jessica Biel ("The Illusionist") as Capt. Sosa, a former love of Face's, and somewhat laughable lines like this:

Face to Capt. Sosa during a heated confrontation:  "I forgot how beautiful you are."

"The A-Team," lensed north of the border with the Vancouver area of Canada doubling for Mexico, Baghdad, Germany, Los Angeles and other locales, rattles the theater speakers and singes the screen with plenty of fast-paced adrenalin-pumping explosions and near-cartoon-like action.

These special ops experts survived combat in Middle East conflicts.   The '80s quartet cut their teeth on napalm and treachery of the Vietnam War era.  Both sets of misunderstood soldiers of fortune were wrongly accused of walking off with war booty (robbing the Bank of Hanoi on TV/ stealing $100-bill U.S. currency plates from Baghdad in the current skirmish).

Director Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces," "Narc") co-wrote this screenplay with actor/writer Brian Bloom (who plays Black Ops leader Pike) and Skip Woods, who co-wrote "X-Men Origins:  Wolverine" and penned the sly action-crime saga "Swordfish."  

There's just a hint of retro in this adventure that culminates in a big, explosive finish at the L.A. harbor.  Anyone who saw "MacGruber" recently might have slight "MacGyver" flashbacks.  The "A-Team" is plenty adept at warrior arts and crafts at a moment's notice and at grabbing odds and ends for parts to homemade weapons of mass destruction.

Quickly forgettable, "The A-Team" is like a carnival ride that briefly thrills and is fun, but won't linger long in the brain.


'Prince' is a pauper compared to the masters

Audiences settle for so much less at the movies these days.

By today's milquetoast standards, "Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time" provides adequate action-adventure swashbuckling in the sands of 6th century Persia.  It's the wink-at-the-audience comic tone that pales in comparison to previous rollicking adventures, though.

For anyone who remembers "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the first Indiana Jones action, comedy and romance frolic of 1981, or perhaps the fun-filled soldier-of-fortune saga "Romancing the Stone" in 1984, a weakly imitation grown out of a video game compares rather poorly.

This is an era when so-so is often hyped into super-duper.  At least in this gimmicky tale (Come on, a dagger that can reverse time?) popcorn munchers in the dark are treated to above average acting, decent special effects and lead actors easy on the eyes.

Jake Gyllenhaal, an Oscar-nominated actor looking a little self-conscious about playing a joystick-driven hero, takes the title role.  A street urchin taken in by the king (ho-hum), Dastan (Gyllenhaal) follows his heart to do the right thing after storming a castle in the fictional holy city of Alamut and, quite by accident, mind you, stumbling upon the aforementioned magic dagger handed down by the gods.

The screenplay, bearing more hand prints than a newborn kitty in an orphanage, may be pedestrian.  But at least versatile British director Mike Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Mona Lisa Smile")  knows how to make the most out of what he's got.

And what he's got here is a one-dimensional, yet flashy yarn that moves fast.  In fact, it only slows down for alluring love/hate glances between Gyllenhaal and his ingénue, budding actress Gemma Arterton as "Come hither, no don't" princess Tamina.

To tell you the truth, I had more fun concentrating on the support players.  Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (remember "Gandhi"?) looks like he's enjoying himself as sly, beloved Uncle Nizam.  And you can't help but like Alfred Molina ("An Education," "Spider-Man 2") as Sheik Amar, the devious, ostrich racing entrepreneur who'd probably be running Goldman Sachs if he could operate in today's market.

Gyllenhaal, on screen most recently in "Brothers," makes a better dashing sword-swinger than I thought he would.  That's because the rising star who drew his Oscar nomination opposite the late Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain" ( 2005) makes the audience believe he is a prince with a heart of gold who'll use his back-to-the-future dagger for good, not evil.

Arterton, Agent Fields in the Bond adventure "Quantum of Solace," still has some work to do as the sometimes pouting woman hiding true grit until the right time to expose it.  It's an old formula that generally still works, though, and the two leads do stir up a little screen heat in the desert.

"Prince of Persia," no doubt the first in a sword-and-sandal franchise if it flexes muscles at the box-office, is adequate, if not extraordinary weekend movie entertainment.  It's got solid elements, just no spark to ignite something magical.

Since it comes from video game source material and doesn't thrill, amuse or tug the heartstrings like the previous masters, let's just call it a token effort and be done with it. 


Slightly off the robust entertainment target

When Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott re-team for the umpteenth adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, we get a fair dose of "Gladiator," a little "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," major sword-clanking battles in Sherwood Forest and, by Scott and Crowe dark standards, Merry Men merriment.

"Robin Hood," which co-stars Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow and other fine actors, is the fifth collaboration for the New Zealand born movie star and his prolific British cohort in the director's chair.

Move often than not, the modus operandi has been tough guys in seriously dangerous situations.  "Gladiator" earned an Oscar nomination for Scott and a Best Actor golden statuette for his leading man.   Crowe and Scott reunited for "American Gangster" in 2007 and the thriller "Body of Lies" a year later.

In between, the duo took a little wine and cheesy movie break in France.  With Scott calling the shots, Crowe drank a little wine, wooed a pretty damsel and fell into an empty swimming pool.  That was "A Good Year." (2006)

"Robin Hood" begins in France as well, but there's little time to sit around sipping Chardonnay.  It's 1199 and archer Robin Longstride (Crowe) is among King Richard the Lionheart's (Danny Huston) troops laying siege to a French castle.  

Here we go again.  It's obvious from the spectacular opening sequence that the tag-team of Scott and Crowe are ready to rumble on a very large scale again.  If you were awake in high school history class, you may recall that the king doesn't walk away from the battle (despite winning).

It's nothing new for legends that loom large on our movie screens to be kneaded more than a little for mass market consumption.  "Robin Hood" screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who shared an Academy Award with director Curtis Hanson for "L.A. Confidential" in 1997, has no restraints when it comes to a legend that began in 9th century medieval oral history.

So forget what you know about Douglas Fairbanks as the hooded crusader in 1922 ("Robin Hood"), Errol Flynn in 1938 ("The Adventures of Robin Hood") and Sean Connery in 1976 ("Robin and Marian").  I trust you've already filed Kevin Costner's wobbly British accent in "Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves" (1991) so far back in your memory bank that it couldn't reemerge even if you wanted it to.

This "Robin Hood" is essentially a prequel; Robin the Hood back story.  Once the skilled archer gets out of the stocks (for mouthing off to the king) and bonds with a handful of loyal rowdy followers (the Merry Men), the mission begins to return the fallen king's helmet to the Queen Mother (Eileen Atkins).

Robin, who grew up without a father, also agrees to return a dying prodigal son's sword to the doomed soldier's father.  That may seem like a lot of chores for a future hero of Sherwood Forest to bog himself down with.  But since this movie ends where most Robin Hood flicks begin (Sequel anybody?), there's no plot-point agenda.

Marion, tough and no one's damsel in distress as portrayed by Blanchett, turns out to be the revered old man's (Von Sydow) daughter-in-law.  Only in the movies does a stranger move into a lady's bedroom and pose as her husband to keep peace in the land.  That works fine for a day or two.  But then the need to scratch the old Scott-Crowe itch kicks in, and ferocious battles rage with lives and, in fact, England itself on the line.

"Robin Hood" squeezes in a wee bit of merriment.  Mark Addy ("The Full Monty"), who toned down his British accent a little to star in the U.S. sitcom "Still Standing," earns some laughs as mead-swilling Friar Tuck.  William Hurt plays it serious as Sir William Marshal, though, turning in one of his finest performances in years.  And Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood in "Sherlock Holmes") is about all anyone needs as nasty villain Sir Godfrey.

At two hours and 20 minutes, "Robin Hood" indulges itself too long on screen.  Technically it's on target, though, if you appreciate boiling oil dumped on soldiers and enough flying arrows to block out the sun at times.  Generally, however, Scott and Crowe are both on top of their  game.

And the game here is tweaking a mystery folk hero into a bankable new epic movie franchise.


Time to get Kraken, but in 2-D

Release the Kraken again?

Yeah, why not?  Just know there's no real need to spring for the extra three or four bucks for the 3-D glasses.

"Clash of the Titans," you see, was not shot in eye-popping 3-D, as was "Avatar."  Like Tim Burton's recent retooling of "Alice in Wonderland," it was shot in traditional 2-D and converted to 3-D to cash in on the swelling trend of three-dimensional viewing.

No matter which route you go, there's plenty of enormous scorpion battle action, visits by Hades himself (Ralph Fiennes) and, of course, the Kraken, ancient Greece's version of a shock-and-awe weapon of mass destruction.

Here's a phrase I never thought I'd be writing:  "Clash of the Titans" is based on an old Harry Hamlin fantasy action flick.

It's true, though.  There's no source material for the remake that fills the screen with silly dialogue, decent acting and adequate special effects except the original "Clash of the Titans" of 1981.  That one featured Hamlin as demigod Perseus and the late Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus, Perseus' god daddy.

In the revamp, Sam Worthington, the Aussie actor who romped with the Pandorians as Jake Sully in "Avatar," takes on Perseus, while Liam Neeson holds court on Mount Olympus as Zeus.  

Perseus, like the god-rejecting seaside citizens of Argos, would rather fight the gods than join his father.  He's especially ticked at Hades, who drowned Perseus' Earthly family in retaliation when the riled-up citizens chunk  a huge statue of Zeus into the sea.

"Collateral damage," Hades tells Perseus.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't exactly sound like 200 BC dialogue to me.  Also, Worthington (perhaps with "Avatar" on his mind) doesn't appear fully invested emotionally in this performance.  Gemma Arterton injects some spirit as Io, Perseus' magical mystical guide, though.  That helps.

"Clash of the Titans" hits all the hot plot points.  Perseus and a small band of determined soldiers battle the giant scorpions, hop the ferry to Hades to take on snake-like Medusa (Natalia Vodianova) and, encounter the winged black stallion Pegasus.  Of course all of this is just a prelude to the finale, which is launched when Neeson's Zeus bellows, "Release the Kraken!"

At the screening I attended, several fanboys down front felt it was necessary to scream the line along with Neeson.  (No one told me this was a sing-along screening.)

From this aisle seat, "Clash of the Titans" draws a split vote.  It ranks high enough on the monster-mash entertainment meter to be worth a look, especially if you like creature features.

The drawback, however, is that director Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk") and visual effects supervisor Nick Davis (an Oscar nominee for "The Dark Knight") use modern advancements in technology to squeeze the cheesy wink-at-the-audience fun from the production.

That was the beauty of the original.  It was stilted and imperfect, but a hoot.

For lack of a worse description, let's call the original "Hamlin on wry with cheese."


Computer animated 'Dino' might

"How to Train Your Dragon" isn't one of the truly great animated comic adventures like "Up" or "Shrek" or the first "Toy Story," which rollicked across movie screens way back in 1995.

It's packed with vibrant entertainment value, though.  And parents aren't likely to doze off or be disgusted by this rambunctious adventure set in the long-ago fantasy world of plus-sized Vikings and fire-breathing dragons.

Young kids today probably have no inkling that animated films of their generation are no longer harnessed by technical limitations.  The sky really is the imagination limit these days.  Within a minute or two of opening -- even before, perhaps, the 3-D glasses are settled properly onto ears and noses -- the sky fills with angry, marauding dinosaurs-on-the-hunt.

A scrawny teen-age Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel)  is at the center of what appears to be a series of maelstroms dating back 300 years, when the Vikings first landed on the fictional Isle of Berk.

If brawn, not brains were all that mattered in this survival-of-the-fittest yarn, Hiccup would probably appear briefly, as the name implies.  Writer-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who brought "Lilo & Stitch" (a 2002 animated tale I really liked) to the screen, instead mold this unlikely leading boy-man into the easy-to-like anti-hero.

Hiccup's dad Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler) is the tribal chief.  Frankly, he's a little ashamed of his thin wisp of a son.  When inventive Hiccup brings down a dreaded Night Fury dinosaur, however, things change drastically. He's sent to dragon slayer school and Stoick the Vast's chest, which is already puffed way out, puffs out more.

For a while, I had a decent time marveling at the technical artistry the directors bring to the screen from the 2003 children's book by Cressida Cowell. It soon becomes obvious, though, that "How to Train a Dragon" bears striking similarities to James Cameron's futuristic sci-fi marvel "Avatar."  

Hiccup befriends the wild breast Night Fury, which he eventually names Toothless.  Together, they soar on a journey that might just bring together two very different tribes (human and beast), just like in "Avatar."

The vocal talent soars right along with the visuals.  In addition to Baruchel and Butler, late-night TV talk show host Craig Ferguson belts his lines with style as Gobber, the village blacksmith and dragon trainer.

And America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty" on TV) might just melt a few young male hearts as Astrid, the Tom Boy Viking girl who becomes entangled with both Hiccup and his black dino stallion.