Something to live for (now that March Madness has passed): the new Alain Resnais film, Wild Grass, new as of the Cannes film festival last May, has popped up on the Landmark schedule for the Ken Cinema come July. That’s a little too long a while to hold my breath. In the meantime....
Clash of the Titans, until something worse comes along, can stand as the low-water mark in the resurgence of 3-D, a movie shot in oldfangled 2-D and accordionized as an afterthought in the laboratory. Any remake would have been hard put to be worse than the laughable original of 1981, and the latest CGI technology, with or without the augmentative 3-D, oughtn’t to have had too impossible a job of improving upon the herky-jerky stop-motion monsters of Ray Harryhausen: the Pegasus, the Medusa, the Kraken, and the rest. But the jiggly camera and the muddy color establish themselves as fundamental no-no’s for an appreciation of the receding planes of 3-D, and Louis Leterrier’s sloppy staging of the action — not so much action, really, as mere motion — would be unfollowable even if your eyes were able to focus. Maybe as a rule of thumb, a fundamental yes-yes, it would be a good idea to know your movie was going to be in 3-D before you shot it.
It’s hard to figure in what sense the narrative represents a clash of Titans, inasmuch as the Titans are identified as the overthrown forefathers of the gods of Olympus, in particular the brothers Zeus (Liam Neeson, equally fit in his white mane to play the Christian God), Poseidon (Danny Huston, gone mostly AWOL), and Hades (Ralph Fiennes, looking as if shanghaied from the role of Fagin in Oliver Twist), who now in turn face a revolt of mere mortals, under the leadership of the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington, coiffed by the USMC), venturing to usher in “the era of man.” (The defiant toppling of the statue of Zeus irresistibly brings to mind the toppling of the statue of Saddam.) But never mind all that.
The creatures are the sole excuse for the movie, and a feeble one at that. The Kraken, even as a follow-up to the elongated slithering Medusa, to say nothing of the earlier swarm of giant scorpions, looks pretty impressive when he rises from the bottom of the sea, but he does little more than roar and bare his teeth before he meets the basilisk eye of the beheaded Medusa. He never escapes the ho-hum sameness of CGI monsters — he could just as well be substituted into the climax of How to Train Your Dragon, with no gain in gravity — and if he is in any way an improvement on a Harryhausen monster it is only in the way that an airbrush can improve upon Halle Berry. One thing that the new generation of CGI monsters has so far failed to produce is evidence of an auteur, a recognizable signature, a human hand. With Harryhausen — a special-effects specialist and nothing but — it was always possible to enter a discussion of where a particular movie, a particular monster, ranked in his oeuvre. What these computer progeny lack above all is a parent.
The Runaways, titled after the all-girl rock band of that name, assembles some fact-based backstage clichés to facilitate the continued growth, right before our eyes, of Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, as guitarist Joan Jett and vocalist Cherie Currie respectively. “This isn’t about women’s lib,” announces their mid-Seventies Svengali. “This is about women’s libido.” (Tiredest cliché, twice used, is the dreaming of dreams beneath the Hollywood sign.) You might expect a degree of candor in a movie that starts out with a splash of menstrual blood (Fanning) on the pavement outside the Pup ’n’ Fries, or that permits revenge to be taken on a chauvinist-piggy rock star by peeing (Stewart) on his guitar. And yet, in first-time filmmaker Floria Sigismondi’s screenplay, we hardly get to know these people beyond Currie’s curious tolerance for the sappy “Starry Starry Night” of Don McLean. Was that Sapphic kiss just a kiss? Was there ever a sequel to it? Or is it simply another growth spurt for Stewart and Fanning? In the void, the movie emerges as scarcely more than costume-party dress-up. (Theme: the Me Decade.) The two leads unquestionably look their parts — the jet-black Jett with her Kabuki hair and the jail-bait Currie, “a little Bowie, a little Bardot,” and, we might add, a little Lolita — but their natural modes, Stewart’s tortured introversion and Fanning’s fawnlike timidity, are a lot to overcome in the roles of barrier-smashing rockers, and neither of them overcome it.
The Last Song, the first feature of TV director Julie Anne Robinson, offers a comparable, an analogous, a distantly parallel growth opportunity for Miley Cyrus, whose progress, in contrast to Stewart’s or Fanning’s, we have not been following on the big screen for so long. In honesty, ahead of last year’s Hannah Montana: The Movie, I myself had barely heard of her. She here gets to shed the Hannah Montana alter ego for an insipid summer romance, thick with pop songs and montages, from the sparkless pen of Nicholas Sparks. (Insufficient recovery time since Dear John.) The central character, a one-time piano prodigy accepted into Juilliard on past performance, though she hasn’t touched a keyboard in years, goes gripingly to Georgia, together with her little brother, to read Tolstoy, to save turtles, and principally to reconnect with her estranged father before (spoiler alert) his surrender to cancer, and, in a meet-cute, she literally bumps into a blond beach volleyballer, spilling her milkshake down her front, who turns out (spoiler alert) to be a plantation-bred blueblood. Along the way, she sulks, she sasses, she flounces off in countless huffs, she cries, she laughs, she kisses, she sings along to the car radio, she tries on girly dresses for a wedding at which we never meet either the bride or the groom, and she plays a piano solo at her father’s funeral so stirringly as to summon up an invisible orchestra in accompaniment. Altogether, she proves herself a perfectly adequate actress for a piece of dreck. As an example for the girls of America, her level, declarative, strong, sour speaking voice is surely preferable to the generational epidemic of wee, high, squeaky, helium-filled voices. Her hunched shoulders, giving her body the appearance of hanging on a coat hook, are another matter.