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Sam Worthington

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Made of Stone.

After about a half hour or so of stilted, mind-numbing, make-you-want-to-claw-your-eyes-out exposition, Louis Leterrier’s interminable remake of Clash of the Titans, for some reason or another, takes a brief moment to badmouth Bubo, the metal owl from the 1981 version of the film. Well, say what you will about that goofy Harry Hamlin-Burgess Meredith-Lawrence Olivier flick and its Minervan comic-relief droid — At least it had heart.

This whiteboy-angsty retread of Titans, on the other hand, basically has no pulse whatsoever. It’s just a lumbering, CGI-ridden box office monstrosity not unlike its Cloverfield-ish Kraken, and one that could desperately use the same spark of life Zeus ostensibly once infused in mortal men. You remember that godawful tag line from the first trailer — “Titans will Clash“? Well, the FX processors notwithstanding, that’s about the level of effort put forth by this movie, as in none at all. Granted, Clash isn’t quite as awful as last month’s woeful Alice in Wonderland, but it’s definitely in the same lo-rent ballpark.

This iteration of Clash begins with a starfield and the demi-goddess Io (Gemma Arterton, late of Quantum of Solace, soon of Prince of Persia) in full expository mode, a la Virginia Madsen at the start of Dune. (Or, for that matter, Cate Blanchett in Fellowship — Leterrier explicitly bites from PJ’s Tolkien trilogy several times here — See also all the very LotR-like pans of Perseus & co. walking through Glorious Nature to wherever they’re going next.) So, anyways, this backstory is pretty standard — Zeus defeats the Titans, he, Poseidon and Hades divvy up the universe, etc. etc.

And eventually, along comes Perseus (Sam Worthington, more on him in a bit), a son of Zeus found lost at sea as a babe by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite, paying the mortgage). Unlike earlier iterations, this Perseus grows up a sullen, wrathful sort, and particularly after Hades (Ralph Fiennes, wasted) drowns his entire family as an afterthought to a fly-by shooting of sorts. Bent on revenge for these murders, Perseus soon enlists on a suicide mission to defeat Hade’s powerful pet, the fearsome Kraken — which, thanks to a bit of inopportune blasphemy by Cassiopeia, the queen of Argos (Polly Walker, wasted), will either be destroying the city or devouring its sensitive-soul, Peace Corps-ish princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, unremarkable) in ten days time.

So this glum, grim, and altogether peeved demigod sets out with a team of soldiers — let’s just go ahead and call them the body count — to find a way to stop the Kraken, which may or may not include fending off giant scorpions, battling Calibos (Jason Flemyng), bartering with witches, and wrangling with Medusa (Natalia Vodianova). And, given the subject matter, it’s almost weird how boring all of this turns out to be. Partly because Perseus’ fighting style throughout is basically “run-in-the-other-direction-from-the-CGI-thingy.” Partly because the script…well, sucks. It’s just bad one-liners and lazy exposition all the live-long day. And partly because, aside from a pair of Asterix-and-Obelix-style hunters who tag along for the ride (Ashraf Barhom and Mouloud Achour), nobody’s having any fun whatsoever here. It’s all grimacing and cursing the Gods for this, that, or the other thing. Just deadly dull stuff.

Is this innate boringness Sam Worthington’s fault? Well…maybe. I said after the also-terrible Terminator: Salvation that Worthington “has presence, and I could see him being a A-lister if given the right material.” But after Avatar and this flick, I’m revising that statement. He’s had three bites at the apple now, and, while I suspect some female or gay readers may disagree — and making some allowances for the fact that, all three times, he probably spent a good bit of his days on set reacting to a green tennis ball — he’s really starting to come across as a charisma-free zone to me.

But, that being said, everybody here, with the possible exception of Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen, seems devoid of charisma here, even usual stalwarts like Liam Neeson and Fiennes (both phoning it in, as is brother Poseidon, Danny Huston — But, to be fair, Huston only has one line.) True, handsome/pretty stiffs like Worthington and Arterton so far seem to be shapely blanks no matter what film they’re in. But somehow or another, this movie has the power of Medusa over everyone involved: It just seems to suck the life right out of people. My advice, if it’s not too late: Don’t attempt to look this one in the eyes. By the Gods, save yourselves and turn away.

World of Warcats.

Hotter than reality by far? Well, maybe…I’d say more just (a) totally super serial. A decade in the making, James Cameron’s Avatar, for all intent and purposes, basically turned out quite a bit like Peter Jackson’s King Kong. (I was going to say The Phantom Menace, but I think that’s too harsh.) The movie looks absolutely amazing, and…uh…well…did I mention it looks amazing? So if you’re the type of person who can enjoy a ravishing visual feast on its own terms (and I am sometimes — for example, Speed Racer), then I think you’ll probably flat-out love it, and it’s definitely worth seeing in 3D.

But — and there’s a big but — if you’re someone who can’t get by on a feast of technological wonders alone, and for whatever reason I was that guy last night, then Avatar leaves something to be desired. It’s got cat class and it’s got cat style alright, but for all the visual inventiveness on display — bioluminescent forests, hammerhead rhinos, insectile gunships, and the like — Avatar is also a gorgeous three-hour cliche: The action may take place in three dimensions, but the story, alas, barely has one. As a result, Avatar has a bit of that too-much-frittering-around-the-edges feel of the Star Wars prequels. Yes, the six-legged equines and mercenary sidearms seem remarkably well-designed…but good god man, what about the plot?

About that plot, we’ve seen or heard the basic contours of this story a dozen times over, albeit not with blue felinoids: Warrior goes undercover, falls in love, goes native, and turns on his former and erstwhile masters. It’s Lawrence of Arabia, Little Big Man, The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, and Dune, just to name a few variations of this theme. (If you’re a WoW player with avatars of your own, Avatar also goes like this: Guy levels a night-elf and/or draenei in Zangarmarsh, really loves his flying mount, and eventually gets caught up in a lot of guild drama.) Now, I don’t begrudge Cameron for retelling a hoary tale here. This story may be as old as the hills, sure, but, it’s all in the execution. But execution-wise, Avatar doesn’t really cut it in a lot of ways. It’s just too broad and ham-handed most of the time. And there are too many absurd plot points (say, all the formerly Na’vi-eating animals turning into the eagles at Mordor in the third act) and reversals (say, all the Na’vi being so awed into submission — after being screwed over and run out of their World Tree — by an apparently easy-to-tame dragon. The Kwisatz haderach never had it so good.)

To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened here. I mean, the dialogue in Titanic is admittedly clunky as all hell, but damned if I don’t feel right there on the boat every time the iceberg comes around. Terminator 2 also has a lot of “hasta la vista, baby” and “why do you cry?” drek to wade through, but it definitely works in the end. And I’d say Cameron’s three best films — Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss — all benefit from quality writing, memorably punchy dialogue, and well-rounded, believable characters. But somewhere here, it feels like Cameron got lost in his sea of pixels. The result is visually impressive to be sure. But — at least for me — it’s not particularly engaging on any emotional level.

I’ll give Avatar this — the problem is not the CGI-rendering. As a feat of technology, the Na’vi characters here are, like almost all of Pandora, the next order of Gollum. They all look and act as photo-realistic as ten-foot-tall blue cats ever could. (In fact, they seem more lifelike than Sam Worthington, who turns in a mostly forgettable performance here — As his respective military and scientific handlers, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, both looking extraordinarily well-preserved, resonate more.) And when the Na’vi are traipsing about their bioluminescent world like it’s an alien nature docutmentary, Avatar is as good as it gets.

But, while they may be more Siamese than Sioux, the Na’vi are also somewhat condescending and even vaguely embarrassing noble savage stereotypes, particularly Zoe Saldana’s character and her intended betrothed. (I didn’t catch the name, and thought of him basically as cat-Billy-Zane.) This would probably rankle more if most everyone else in the story wasn’t a caricature too. Giovanni Ribisi (overplaying it) is the weaselly corporate lackey. (He’s Burke, a.k.a. Paul Reiser from Aliens.) Michelle Rodriguez (in her wheelhouse) is the tough-as-nails military gal with the heart of gold. (She’s Vasquez, a.k.a. Jenette Goldstein, also from Aliens.) And so on — Not one character does or says anything surprising over the course of three hours, and so Avatar, for all its visual grandeur, just plays out like an eye-catching, extraordinarily expensive, and maddeningly familiar Saturday morning (super-)serial.

Not to lose the Hometree in the forest, Avatar looks, really, really good. Beautiful, even. And, amid the shock-and-awe references and Zen-tastic Earth mother philosophy, there are glimpses of some interesting ideas interspersed throughout the cornball stuff. I get the feeling there might be some meta-commentary going on here about actors and “avatar” technology — Sam Worthington the actor is stepping into a ten-foot-tall cat suit just as much as his character Jake Sully is — although I could be over-thinking it. And a late moment involving Sully (in human form) and one of the Na’vi — the Pieta scene in the trailer (which, by the way, Stephen Lang fell conveniently close to… and what happened to the nerdy sidekick guy who should’ve been in there at the time?) — plays out like the Urtext image of much of Cameron’s output over the years. (From Ellen Ripley to Sarah Connor, Cameron does love his warrior-goddess mothering types.)

Nonetheless, while probably worth catching for the 3-D ride experience, Avatar fell well below my expectations of the King of the World’s vaunted return. More than most — some might say all — of his contemporaries, James Cameron has always had the knack for giving his technological marvels a human pulse: The Terminator, The Abyss, and Titanic are first and foremost love stories; In the midst of all the kick-ass, T2 and Aliens are also movies about (adopted) parents and children. But that gift for keeping humanity front and center in his sci-fi failed him this time — For all its visual splendor, Avatar sadly falls into an uncanny valley of the heart. Simply put, it just feels a bit hollow.

The Kraken meets Dokken.

Hey, Perseus: Cloverfield called — they want their Kraken back. The Avatar trailer bounty continues with another 300-ish trailer for Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake, with Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Pete Postlethwaite, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Flemyng, and Alexa Davalos. Eh, ok. They’re still angling too hard for the meathead demographic imho, but at least they lost that embarrassing “Titans will Clash! tagline from the last go-round.

The Teen Titans.

In today’s trailer bin, director Matthew Vaughn borrows a little bad reputation from Freaks & Geeks to make the case for his adaptation of Kick-Ass, with Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. (So far, so good — from all indications, Moretz’s Hit Girl will steal the show.)

Meanwhile, Sam Worthington takes on big scorpions and sundry other Kraken-like things in the very 300-ish trailer for Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake, also with Alexa Davalos, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Flemyng and Mads Mikkelsen. Frankly, it sorta lost me with the lousy aggro-whiteboy rock, but ya never know. And “Titans Will Clash!“…ugh. Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?

Single White Human, Looking for Group.

They don’t care what’s in your character bank: Paraplegic veteran Sam Worthington rolls Draenei and goes native in the brand-spankin’ new second trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar, also with Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez. (Well, actually this trailer has been floating around in bootleg form for a few days now, but I figured this movie more than most needs to be judged and/or appreciated in hi-def.)

Anyway, so far, so good. Ribisi and Rodriguez seem a lot like Paul Reiser (Burke) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens respectively. And while a lot of the “Dances with Thundersmurfs” hectoring out there can be chalked up to the usual aggro-fanboy haterade, Avatar‘s whole central plot-line does seem pretty doggone similar to Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Dune, or any other flick/book you can name where a good outsider throws in with the “noble savage” locals to beat back the massively superior technological firepower of the would-be colonialists. (“This is our land!!” It is? No, it’s their land, buddy. Ease up with your bad self.)

Still, it’s gonna make for some amazing eye candy, that’s for sure. And as long as the Na’vi don’t squeal like Ewoks or Gungans as they fight, I should be able to dig it.

Hotter than Reality By Far?

While much of the geekglobe, including yours truly, are still happily grooving along this week to Felicia Day’s elite-level earworm, “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” the King of the World has upped the stakes by releasing the teaser trailer for his much-anticipated film of the same name. (Several stills have popped online too, including first looks at Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang (late of Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi. Notably missing: Zoe Saldana.) The Avatar trailer drops at 10am EST.

Update: Apple/Quicktime is failing at the moment, but French MSN has come to the rescue. So, wait, it’s World of Warcraft Draenei replacing Dune‘s Fremen on the forest moon of Endor in 3D? Agh, screw it — you had me at James Cameron.

Terminator X’ed.

“This is John Connor. We’ve been fighting a long time. We are outnumbered by….zzzz” Well, I’ve been doing my darnedest this year to skip the Big Summery Movies that are pretty obviously subpar. (Hence, no Wolverine or Angels & Demons reviews here — Not after X3 and The Da Vinci Code.) But, in a moment of weakness, I did happen to catch McG’s Terminator: Salvation a week or so ago. And…well…if you figure this is a fourth movie in a twenty-five-year-old franchise about time-traveling killer robots, and it was made by a grown man who calls himself “McG,” it’s mostly harmless, I guess. (And let’s face it: The zinger ending notwithstanding, Terminator 3 wasn’t much to write home about either.) Still, if barely passable as a mindless, incoherent, two-hour explosion-fest, T:S gets considerably more disappointing when held against the Cameron Terminators. And, particularly coming as it does after Star Trek, T:S feels at best like a blown opportunity, and at worse just a blatant, Transformers-style cash grab. As a younger John Connor was once wont to say, “Easy money.”

The year is 2018 — yes, only nine years from now — and, as foreordained since the very first Terminator back in 1984, John Connor (Christian Bale) and the scattered remnants of Humankind are battling for survival against the mechanized minions of Skynet. (And, with an air force and nuclear subs at their disposal, the humans are actually doing quite a bit better than we all ever expected.) But, wait…first, it’s 2003, and death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington, soon of Cameron’s Avatar) is being given the hard sell by a cancer-ridden doctor (Helena Bonham Carter) to donate his body to science…namely, good old Cyberdyne Systems. (And with Worthington forced to deliver groaners like “Now I know what death tastes like” after a farewell kiss, Dead Man Walking this isn’t.)

Anyway, Marcus signs the dotted line, which undercuts a good bit of the drama when he awakens fifteen years later, after Judgment Day, and has no idea what’s going on. (Ok, all the trailers had already blown that particular spoiler wide open anyway.) In any event, Marcus soon falls in with a resourceful teenager, Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), and his — I kid you not — mute child companion (Jadagrace). As this unlikely trio venture through Southern California avoiding androids — they mostly come out at night, mostly — John Connor and his crack military team attempt to find his future father, figure out why Skynet is now taking so many human prisoners, and deploy a possible game-changing sonar device that seems to work as a universal Off switch. Will it work, and cripple Skynet for good? Well, considering we still have eleven more years before the (future) events of the first film, it’s safe to say there’s probably gonna be a few snags…

Even if you’re not all that cognizant of the Terminator backstory, it won’t take long to realize that the story we were expecting to see — John Connor sends his father, Kyle Reese, on a doomed mission into the past — is not being told here. In that sense, Terminator: Salvation plays a lot like another unnecessary-feeling sci-fi prequel to the prequel, The Phantom Menace. (That goes double once you start thinking of Marcus, Connor, and Reese as the Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Anakin of this outfit respectively.) And, like Menace, the stakes here feel surprisingly low, mainly because we know a lot of these characters have a future (or, in Reese’s case, past) date with destiny, and that it isn’t being covered here mainly so that the powers-that-be can make some extra coin at some point in the future.

The problem is, after a movie this poorly written, who’s going to bother showing up? I know it’s useless to continue railing about the same sad old thing, but, really — how does a script this shoddily written ever get off the ground? Isn’t there any sort of quality control that goes into making a $100 million+ flick? I already mentioned one of the many horrible lines scattered throughout this movie, but that’s just that the tip of the iceberg. Every character in this movie is a one-note affair, from the Big Three down to folks like Bryce Dallas Howard (the supportive hug-giver), Common (the GI with a dead brother), and Michael Ironside (the skeptical higher-up). The leaps of logic required throughout this film make time travel seem eminently plausible. (Why isn’t Skynet’s “asset” activated sooner? How did Bale get on that sub? How are the robots missing that not-so-secret army base? Does that gimongous Transformer people-grabber thing have a stealth mode or something?) At one point, to get it across that Marcus is a stand-up guy, we actually have an interlude involving a gang of rapists out of Deliverance — I mean, how lazy can you get? And the climax — in which all the main characters run around Skynet HQ without much purpose — just makes no sense at all. (Nor does the ending, or, for that matter, the original ultra-dark ending, which for all its bravura would’ve screwed up the timeline something fierce.) And I did mention the mute kid, right? Hoo boy.

So, what’s good? Well, despite the pitiful writing, the three main characters are all pretty watchable, even if Bale spends the entire movie in raspy monotone mode. (I like Bale as an actor quite a bit, but those folks who say he’s “slumming” it by making this movie clearly never sat through Reign of Fire or Equilibrium. The man, power to him, has never been above slapdash genre outings.) Sam Worthington isn’t given much to do but act pained and stoic, but he has presence, and I could see him being a A-lister if given the right material. And Anton Yelchin’s star continues to rise after Star Trek — he’s easily the most appealing figure in the movie, and comes across as a more feral and dangerous version of Elijah Wood. (Dare I say, he’s Bilboesque? Well, maybe.) Finally, there’s a surprise cameo of sorts in the latter third that’s good for a solid fifteen seconds of real movie thrills, before it too degenerates into badly-thought-out nonsense. But in the grim post-Judgement Day future, I guess you take your movie moments where you can find them.

Also, the lighting? So not professional.

The Future isn’t Bright.

In the trailer bin, those confounded, robotic death merchants of the Skynet corporation have the temerity to wander into John Connor’s eyeline in the Sam Worthington-centric teaser for McG’s Terminator: Salvation. (I’ll probably see this come May, but I’m still not really seeing the point — Well, I guess the ten bucks accompanying my fanboy due diligence probably is the point.) And Six Feet Under‘s Ben Foster awakens to a very Event Horizon-ish situation in the far reaches of space in the new trailer for Christian Alvart’s Pandorum (I can’t say the words “from the producers of Resident Evil” instill much in the way of confidence, but Dennis Quaid used to have a pretty good eye for appealing, low-budge genre projects — Enemy Mine, Dreamscape — so here’s hoping.)

In the future, there will be robots.

Post-apocalyptic California is a barren, nightmarish place, and poor Bruce Wayne still needs a lozenge, in the full trailer for McG’s Terminator: Salvation, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard (and not, sadly, Charlotte Gainsbourg), Common, and Moon Bloodgood. Hmm, ok. I’m still not seeing much of a reason for this film existing, but it doesn’t look terrible, I guess.

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