Furry Vengeance

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Furry Vengeance is the kind of movies that make me glad I don't have children age 6-10. Then again, I ended up seeing this dud anyway, childless or not.

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Dan Sanders (Brendan Fraser) is a real estate development manager employed by businessman Neal Lyman (Ken Jeong). He moves his family -- wife Tammy (Brooke Shields) and 16-year-old son Tyler (Matt Prokop) -- to a forest community in Oregon. Initially they're only going to be there for one year so he can get phase one of the project finished, then they're supposed to return to Chicago. However, Mr. Lyman convinces Dan to stay another three years to finish phase two of the expansion.

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What Dan doesn't know is: a) Lyman plans to destroy the forest to build his mega-suburb complete with strip malls; b) Lyman's plan will seriously affect the local ecosystem and drive the animals away or kill them; and c) a devious raccoon is leading the forest creatures to sabotage Dan's plan.

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Soon it becomes a war between the raccoon and Dan, who is determined to eradicate his nemesis even though his family doesn't believe him and thinks he's gone bonkers. Of course, Dan is so obsessed with his job and his raccoon problem that he is ignoring his family and what is really important. Will he destroy his enemies, or will he see the light and realize he should be helping the animals instead? (Um, duh!)

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Brendan Fraser (Extraordinary Measures) hasn't had a hit since…well, I can't remember; maybe The Mummy 4 and its success is arguable. Here, pudgy and overacting, Fraser caters to the lowest common denominator by acting like a buffoon. Of course, there's nothing wrong with using physical comedy to make us laugh, but much of his character's antics are idiotic and even mean-spirited. As a human cartoon (they must be going for the Loonie Toons effect), Fraser simply isn't all that funny or flexible. I understand he's probably making these PG comedies for his young kids, but still, there's a time to be a father, and another time to be an actor. If Fraser continues down this path, soon he will be working as an extra in TV sitcoms!

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Brooke Shields (Hannah Montana) doesn't fare much better. I never pictured Shields as a comedy actor anyway, despite her various efforts (e.g. Suddenly Susan). Fortunately, she still adds a little class to the production. She's just not that funny -- it's ironic that her funniest moment is when she spoofs her Blue Lagoon persona during the end credits.

Matt Prokop (High School Musical) is unimpressive as Dan's son. I keep wanting to see more edge, more anger, more mischief, but all we get is a boring teenager. Angela Kinsey (The Office) could have been very funny as Lyman's assistant, but her role is too small. Ken Jeong (The Hangover) is the funniest actor in the bunch, and it's kind of interesting to see him play a ruthless businessman named Neal Lyman. Then Jeong starts to do his racial stereotypes and it all goes downhill from there. I mean, seriously, what is going on? The guy speaks perfect English and suddenly he's making these cartoonish chipmunk noises imitating an Asian language (I have no idea whether it is Chinese or Japanese or Vietnamese -- it just sounds like gibberish to me). It's offensive.

Michael Carnes (Mr. Woodcock) and Josh Gilbert (Mr. Woodcock) approached their story clearly with the young crowd (especially boys) in mind. The trouble is, that doesn't leave much for the adults to enjoy. There are films that can be enjoyed by everyone (Pixar is very good at making them). Such is not the case with this dud. The story is tiresome and silly. The dialogue is infantile. The slapstick comedy may work for the Loonie Toons or even a live-action featuring rubber-man Jim Carey, but Brendan Fraser? Nope. The plot is idiotic, the characters one-dimensional, and it's just not that funny. Not to mention when many of the jokes revolve around potty humor and hitting crotches, you know something is seriously wrong with it. Or at least, it's written by 8-year-olds for 8-year-olds.

To make things worse, director Roger Kumble (College Road Trip) stumbles in making this dud. The pacing is off, and it has the attention of a flea. There are way too many mishaps for Dan to take, and thus the predictable, inevitable transformation near the end is not convincing at all. Granted, no 8-year-olds are going to care about the plausibilities -- they just want to see adults getting hit or stung by bees or sprayed by skunks or falling… So, if that's the kind of humor you're looking for, you probably won't be disappointed.

For the rest of us who are not under 10, however, we can go ahead and diss it with a vengeance.


Stars: Brendan Fraser, Brooke Sheilds, Matt Prokop, Ken Jeong, Angela Kinsey
Director: Roger Kumble
Writers: Michael Carnes, Josh Gilbert
Distributor: Summit
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor, mild language and brief smoking
Running Time: 92 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 3
Performance – 6
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 5
Editing – 6
Production – 7


Total – 4.5 out of 10

The Losers

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Another Comic Book-based movie, and it's not even summer yet? No wonder ComicCon each year is packed from wall to wall. The Losers, based on a DC Comics series, is an old-school action-adventure, buddy film that is straightforward and fun.

p01Colonel Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is the leader of an elite US Special Forces unit on a mission in the Bolivian jungle. His team includes Jensen (Chris Evans), Rogue (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short), and Cougar (Oscar Jaenada). However, they are double-crossed by someone from the inside named Max -- the trouble is, nobody ever saw or knew who Max was.

p02Presumed dead, the team, who now calls themselves the Losers, becomes fugitives in South America, not able to return to the US because Max also framed them for the botched operation. They want to take back their lives and  seek revenge. Then a secret operative, Aisha (Zoe Saldana), promises them what they want in exchange of Max's death…if they ever find Max and get through his high security.

p03Meanwhile, Max (Jason Patric) is making deals with foreign sources to make deadly weapons of mass destruction, so he could mastermind a terrorist conflict that would wage a global war and allow him to profit from it. After knowing his plans, The Losers have even more reasons to stop Max. But how do they get to the heavily-guarded and elusive Max without being killed?

p04Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), often considered a Javier Bardem lookalike, is getting his own shows. He's dashing, sexy, brawny, and charming as the leader of The Losers, who has a weakness for beautiful women. Morgan is perfect for the role -- I can't think of anyone else playing it except maybe George Clooney or, well, Javier Bardem. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), as the lone female cast member, holds her own very well against the testosterone set. She's brassy, sharp, agile, tough, yet also feminine, gorgeous and super hot.

p05As the happy-go-lucky Jensen, Chris Evans (The Fantastic 4) plays the same goofy jock he did in his other films. He adds comic relief to the story and generally are very likable. Idris Elba (RocknRolla) is Rogue, a tough, mean, ruthless military man on a mission. Columbus Short (Quarantine) plays off the other guys as the good-natured family man who also knows how to use a bazooka. Oscar Jaenada (Circuit) is super cool as the quiet sharpshooter, Cougar. He doesn't have many lines, but he's a scene stealer nonetheless.

p06The bad guys are led by Jason Patric (In the Valley of Elah) as the super-bad baddie, Max. In fact, Max is so bad that there's absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever in the guy. He will eat his own young. And Patric unleashes his inner douchebag to play the role well. Holt McCallany (Vantage Point) is the go-to guy to play bad dudes. Playing Max's top henchman Wade is right up McCallany's alley.

p07Written by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), the screenplay (based on the DC series) is back-to-back action and comedy with sex appeal to spare. Also, they've given us strong characters and heart. Everything should be cheesy, from the ridiculous names such as Max and Wade and Pooch to the over-the-top action, and it is. But the cheese is what makes the movie tick. We're not here for warm and fuzzy or logic. If you must, you can find holes in the plot as big as Bolivia, but we won't care. So much of the story is just an excuse to get our heroes to places and set them up in situations so we can see some kick-ass action. And they don't disappoint.

p08The dialogue is very genre-specific and it works. There's also enough bickering, chest-pounding, and camaraderie to make grown men giggle. This film is obviously made for teenage boys and men who are teenage boys. The characters are black and white, and the villain is super villainy (there's no ambiguity about that). Cool toys, fast cars, big guns, great action, nice buddies, and a bunch of hot chicks -- you've got yourself a mix of the right ingredients.

p09What director Sylvian White (Stomp the Yard) does for the script is mix all the ingredients well and give us a top-notch production. He doesn't disappoint. We've got everything from guns to cars to high-tech gadgets to bickering man-boys. What he's avoided to do is fall into the Michael Bay's Transformers trap. He doesn't just go for the loud and obnoxious and convoluted special effects (don't get me wrong, the movie is rather loud and obnoxious), but he focuses on the relationships between these guys, and that's awesome. These guys are strong characters, but they also feel real, despite the comic book look and feel. They're the kind of guys you really don't mind to hang out with. They're that cool. Even though the plot is rather outrageous and silly, it's the relationships and heart that hold the film together.

p10The only downside is the PG-13 rating: that limits the amount of violence, blood, language, and naughty stuff they can put in the film. Granted, they don't need all that, but when you consider how violent the whole concept is but you don't see any blood at all, it just seems weird. This is, of course, a movie for young boys, age 10-45 (and girls, too, if they'd drop their Barbies and go for a bunch of hairy, studly guys), so that's quite understandable. Still, I think it would be so seriously, totally awesome if it went the Kick-Ass route.

That said, I think The Losers is a fun, exciting, cool, and sexy, and it is exactly what the genre calls for. Don't expect the subtlety or the multi-layered characterization of Oscar-nominated dramas, but as a comic-book movie, it's close to what we'd expect from the likes of Iron-Man. It's definitely a winner, not a loser.


Stars: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elha, Columbus Short, Oscar Jaenada, Jason Patric, Holt McCallany
Director: Sylvain White
Writers: Peter Berg, James Vanderbilt (based on Andy Diggle's graphic novels)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence, sensuality, and language
Running Time: 98 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8


Total – 7.9 out of 10

Kick-Ass

© 2010 Ray Wong

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Don't let the trailers of Kick-Ass fool you -- yes, it's about children and teenagers becoming superheroes and it's cool, but this movie is not suitable for children or even young teens.

p1Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a gawkish, nerdy teenager who likes the Internet and comic books. He fantasizes about being a superhero and wonders why there's none in real life. Tired of being invisible, he decides to get a costume and live out his fantasy with his alter-ego, Kick-Ass. His first outing almost costs him his life, but his early failure only makes him want it more. A YouTube video of him fighting crime soon becomes a worldwide phenomenon and Kick-Ass is now famous.

p2Dave is happy to be Superman/Clark Kent as he tries to get close to his "Lois Lane": a fellow student named Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca). Little does Dave know that mafia boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) believes Kick-Ass is behind the sabotages of his drug business. Little does either know that a pair of "superheroes," Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter, Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), are behind it all.

p3Dave soon finds himself entangled with D'Amico, Big Daddy and Hit Girl, and he's in grave danger as D'Amico is dead set on killing Kick-Ass. Meanwhile, D'Amico's son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) masquerades as superhero Red Mist to help his father find Kick-Ass.

p4Aaron Johnson (The Illusionist) is charming and adequately nerdy as Dave/Kick-Ass. Hiding his good looks with messy hair, baggy clothes, and thick eyeglasses, Johnson does have that young Clark Kent quality (but not quite Superman -- and that contributes to his charm). His performance is somewhat superficial but suitable for the genre. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is infamous for his role as McLovin in Superbad, and he plays more or less the same role here as Chris D'Amico/Red Mist, but with a sinister side.

p5Lyndsy Fonseca (Hot Tub Time Machine) is cute and interesting as the object of Dave's affection, and Clark Duke (Hot Tub Time Machine) is playing the same dorky friend as he did in all his movies. The big boys are having fun, too: Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes) are super bad as D'Amico -- he relishes in such a role; and Nicolas Cage (Knowing) is equally droll as Big Daddy.

p6But the star of the show, who steals every scene, is pint-sized actress Chloe Moretz (500 Days of Summer), who plays Hit Girl with spunk, gumption, and energy that she brightens the screen every time she's on. She's quite amazing; the role is tailor-made for her.

p7Adapted from the graphic novel (Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.) by Jane Goldman (Stardust) and Matthew Vaughn (Stardust), the screenplay reads like a comic book. It follows a similar arc of, say, Spider-Man, but soon deviates from the familiar archetype. In fact, Kick-Ass is rather unconventional when it comes to superheroes. Dave/Kick-Ass doesn't have any power or skills, and he's actually rather a wuss. He only rises to the occasion after being rescued by Hit Girl (twice!). The screenplay is also extremely adult, something not expected if you're not familiar with the comic book series. Within the first 15 minutes, you'd realize it's not your usual kid-friendly superhero adventure. In fact, it is exactly the opposite: it's a hard R rating with pervasive language (uttered by kids, no less), sexual references and content, and gory violence. Superbad meets Kill Bill meets Watchmen.

p8The plot and story are over the top, even for comic books. Don't look for depth or full-fledged character development. Some of the plot elements and characters don't really make sense. It's cartoonish. But that's also its strength -- this is very much a comic book movie. They make no apologies and they're not trying to be something they're not, and you have to admire that.

Under Matthew Vaughn's direction, the movie looks and feels like a comic book -- it even has a "comic book within a comic book" scene. The action sequences are outrageous and well choreographed. The stunt work impressive. The plot does feel schizophrenic at times and lacks certain consistency throughout. Certainly the opening sequence does not prepare the audiences for the gore and violence that follow. But Vaughn keeps the pace tight and the action fast and furious. And there's certain perverted pleasure of seeing and hearing kids swear and kill bad guys in the most gruesome ways you can ever imagine.

Kick-Ass is a pleasant surprise, if you allow yourself to not be offended by the material and the perverted sense of dark humor. It's something different and yet very fitting for the genre. In other words, it so totally kicks ass.



Stars: Aaron Johnson, Clark Duke, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (based on graphic novel by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.)
Distributor: Lionsgate
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, sexual content, nudity, and drug use, some involving children
Running Time: 117 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8


Total – 7.9 out of 10

Date Night

© 2010 Ray Wong

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How do you put two of the funniest actors on Earth into one film and make it unfunny? I guess we'll have to ask Shawn Levy and Josh Klausner.

p1Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are a married couple living in a New Jersey suburb. They lead a normal and boring life with two kids -- Phil is an accountant and Claire is a real estate agent. They work all day and are too busy to raise two kids, they hardly have time for themselves, let alone each other. Every week, however, they manage to go on a "date night" just to get out of the house. When they hear their best friends are splitting up, they desperately want to do something "special" so they won't go down the same road.

p2They settle for an upscale, hip, popular restaurant in Manhattan for a special night out. Without a reservation, however, on a whim they decide to take the place of two no-shows, the Tripplehorns. During the meal, they get found out and are escorted out by two men, Armstrong (Jimmi Simpson) and Collins (Common), who turn out to be thugs working for a gangster (Ray Liotta). Apparently, they've been mistaken for the real Tripplehorns and their lives are being threatened unless they give up a "flash-drive."

p3They barely escape, and when they realize Armstrong and Collins are both cops, they know they and their children can't be safe until they find the real Tripplehorns and locate the said flash-drive. Claire then suggests a former client of hers, Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg), who is a military and security consultant, to help them find the flash-drive. A wild goose chase ensures.

p4Steve Carell (Get Smart) has had a string of duds lately, as far as his movie career is concerned, and he hopes to reverse the trend with Date Night. Unfortunately, he keeps playing the same Average-Joe schmuck that he so successfully created with the likes of The Office and Dan in Real Life. Here, he seems to have sleep-walked with the role, and is generally unfunny. Tina Fey (Baby Mama) is equally dull as the wife. She is so much better and funnier and nuttier in 30 Rock. So why can't these two funny actors take a leap to the big screen without losing their mojos?

p5Mark Wahlberg (The Lovely Bones), on the other hand, is rather droll as the studly security consultant. He has some good lines and is a good sport playing off Carell and Fey. Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is good as Detective Arroyo, but that role is so small it really doesn't matter who's in it. Jimmi Simpson (Good Intentions) and Common (Terminator Salvation) are adequately sinister as the two henchmen, but they're not given enough chances to flex their comedic muscles. William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) is surprisingly goofy and interesting as D.A. Frank Crenshaw.

p6Brief and unimpressive cameos include Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as friends of the Fosters, James Franco and Mila Kunis as the "Tripplehorns," Will i Am as himself, and Ray Liotta as the gangster boss.

p7Written by Josh Klausner (Shrek the Third), the screenplay is dull and implausible. It's also astonishingly unfunny. Most of the time, the situations are forced and unconvincing. It also relies on the actors to improvise; sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn't. Mostly, the plot is weak and contrived. The setup is clich├ęd and predictable, so is the ending. It lacks certain edge to make this a true dark comedy. It also lacks the proper subtlety and dynamics to make it a great screwball comedy. It is too lame to be a gross-out comedy. So at the end, it is just not very comedic.

p8Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum), unfortunately, gives it a digital video look. I understand it gives the film a certain feel of immediacy and realism, but it just looks cheap, like a low budget movie (and I'm sure, with all the stars, it's not a low budget film). The pacing seems off at times. The middle doesn't go anywhere -- it just drags. The ending is implausible and too silly for words.

Like I said, with the star power of Carell and Fey, this movie feels more like a desperate attempt to make us laugh than genuine entertainment. It's a disappointment -- not something you'd like to watch on a date night… or any night at all.

Stars: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: Josh Klausner
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual and crude content, language, violence and drug references
Running Time: 88 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7


Total – 5.8 out of 10

Clash of the Titans

© 2010 Ray Wong

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More of a remake of the 1981 cult classic and less of a retelling of the actual myths, Clash of the Titans takes us back to ancient Greece where the gods ruled the world and monsters were a dream for special effects artists.

p1As narrated by Io (Gemma Arterton), the king of gods, Zeus (Liam Neeson), is often battling with his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) who rules the underworld. Zeus believes in nurturing human love, and their prayers are what is sustaining Mt. Olympus and the gods. Meanwhile, Hades believes the best way to control the humans is through fear. When the humans defy the gods, Hades seizes the opportunity not only to prove Zeus wrong, but also to regain enough strength to unseat Zeus from his divine throne. In a show of power, Hades kills the Argonauts and vows to destroy Argos by releasing the Kraken, if they don't sacrifice the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos).

p2Caught in the middle of this epic clash is Perseus (Sam Worthington), son of a fisherman. His family is killed by Hades and Perseus vows to avenge their deaths. Little does he know he's actually the son of Zeus, thus a demigod. Zeus appeals to Perseus to join the gods in Mt. Olympus, but Perseus's mind is set on defeating Hades and saving Argos. He and a team of Argonauts, led by Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), set off to find a way to kill the Kraken.

p3Their journey takes them to the three witches, who advice Perseus the only way to defeat the Kraken is by using Medusa's deadly stare, which turns any living thing into stone. Accompanied by Io and the men, Peseus will attempt the impossible by slaying Medusa and return to Argos before the Kraken destroys everyone.

p4Sam Worthington's (Avatar) star has enjoyed a phenomenal rise since Terminator Salvation and Avatar. This film is his third action flick, back to back. The great thing about Worthington is that he's a new kind of action hero -- he is not brash and obnoxious or brawny (don't get me wrong; he's rather well-built, just not a muscle-head like the Rock or Schwarzenigger). In fact, Worthington appeals to men and women alike because of his everyman, boy-next-door quality. His acting is subtle but not wooden. We can very much relate to any character he plays, whether it is a Terminator, or a human-turn-Na'vi, or a demigod.

p5Liam Neeson (Chloe) is majestic as Zeus. One would think that no one could match Lawrence Olivier's regal portrayal of the famed god, but Neeson does a fine job here, conveying both benevolence and a touch of sinisterness (wrath, jealousy, lust, etc.). Ralph Fiennes (The Reader) looks sickly as Hades. Here, he channels Voldemort but with a more god-like arrogance. I love the conviction he has while delivering this line: "You can't kill me -- I am a god!"

p6The huge supporting cast includes Jason Felmyng (Kick-Ass) as Acrisius, who was turned to the hideous Calibos because he dared to commit blasphemy against Zeus. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace) is lovely and empathetic as Perseus's guardian angel, Io. Alexa Davalos (Defiance) has a surprisingly small role, considering she plays the famous Andromeda. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) is excellent as the stoic Argonaut, Draco, whose becomes Perseus's most loyal friend and companion.

p7Based on the 1981 film, the screenplay is written by relatively unknown writers, Travis Beacham (Dog Days of Summer), Phil Hay (The Tuxedo) and Matt Manfredi (The Tuxedo). It follows the same story arc and structure of the first film. However, they also deviate from the original by streamlining the plot to give it more cohesion. The story now has a better rhyme and reason than the original. Also, they've changed certain key plot elements and characters. For example, Calibos is now Perseus's mother's husband; Pegasus is black instead of white; and Andromeda is not a love interest for Perseus -- that is rather refreshing.

p8On the other hand, the dialogue is just as cheesy and some of the plot development doesn't make sense. After one of the most exciting scenes with the scorpions, there is a deus ex machina that simply doesn't work for me. Also, the plot starts to drag between epic battle scenes.

Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) is able to put together a production that is lavish, exciting and full of eye candy. That's what we've come to expect from big Hollywood special-effect extravaganzas, and Leterrier doesn't disappoint. Even though I knew exactly how the story was going to unfold and how it was going to end, I was mostly at the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened next, not because I didn't know, but because I wanted to see how he did it. The real strength of this film, of course, is the CGI special effects and action, and they are excellent. I wasn't expecting much (since I've seen just about everything), but I was pleasantly surprised.

The pace is brisk and often exciting. There's always something going on and something to anticipate. The production value is high and the sets and special effects are quite fantastic. They also pay homage to the original film (e.g. there's a cute, irrelevant cameo by some mechanical owl), which is a nice tribute to Ray Harryhausen. The climactic sequence is somewhat convoluted, however, and I wish they would tone it down and not go the Transformers (lots of closeups and tangled action) route.

I went to Clash of the Titans with low expectations and came away impressed. No, it's not the best movie of the year, and yes, it's something we've seen before, but they did a great job. It's immensely enjoyable and exciting to watch. I think even the Titans would approve.

Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton, Alexa Davalos, Tine Stapelfeldt, Mads Mikkelsen
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi (based on Beverley Cross's 1981 screenplay)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy action, violence, some frightening images and brief sensuality
Running Time: 118 Minutes

Ratings:


Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 9
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 9


Total – 7.6 out of 10