It’s a rough week at the movies, folks. Knowing what a massive hit Hunger Games was destined to be, the studios have decided to dump to crappy blockbusters they probably predicted would fail (Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror) and for some reason re-release Titanic in 3D. That’s a pretty ugly batch of Hollywood releases to consider, but the good news is there’s a small, vulgar, and violent hockey comedy also coming out that’s actually quite good.
So, unless you feel like being disappointed by big budget bombs, the best way to go is with an R-rated sports comedy. Sure, it’s not the ideal choice, but it’s just one of those crappy weeks at the movies, folks. Sorry. Wish that wasn’t true. Sigh
The best movie slipping onto screens this week arrives with little fanfare. It’s a blood-soaked hockey comedy that revels in the violence of sport like the genre classic Slapshot. Seann William Scott stars as a player on the typical sports movie rise-to-glory track. However, he’s not a talent worthy of a high draft pick. Nope, he’s a rather daft innocent who has worked as a bouncer for most of his life because his greatest gifts are his ability to dole out violence and take a punch without a flinch.
His talents are noticed by his hockey blogging buddy (Jay Baruchel, who also co-wrote the script with Seth Rogen’s screenwriting partner Evan Goldberg), who helps him get a gig in the minor leagues. Of course, Scott can’t even skate but that doesn’t matter. His rise to minor league hockey glory has nothing to do with scoring goals. He’s just there to dole out hockey’s special brand violence that makes the crowd cheer. Amusingly, the movie doesn’t build to a championship win or an inspiring rise to professional glory. Nope, it all builds to Scott duking it out with an aging French Canadian ass-kicking hockey legend hilariously played by Liev Schreiber.
Goon is one of those “men behaving badly” comedies filled with saucy language, comically excessive violence, and all manner of substance abuse (my favorite line: “I only have two rules: Don’t touch my f*cking percocets and have you got any f*cking percocets”). But, with the film directed by Fubar veteran Michael Dowse, there’s also a little heart without ever dipping into sentimentality. Scott is given a love interest in the absolutely adorable Alison Pill (sure to become a star in a few years if there’s any justice in this world). She’s a violence-loving hockey groupie who gives the lovable loser something to look forward to without ever distracting from the comedy. The sweetest and most romantic exchange in the movie is when Pil admits, “You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys” and Scott replies, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
Goon is a raunchy sports comedy that wears its R-rating as a badge of honor and it’s also probably the best sports movie (full stop) to come along in years. Though the film won’t break box office records, it’s guaranteed to become a cult classic, filling locker rooms with knowing laughter for decades. If you only make one trip to the theaters this weekend and don’t mind being offended, run to Goon. Sneaking beer into the theater along with you isn’t required, but it ain’t a bad idea either.
The Bad: Wrath of the Titans
So this is what the blockbuster movie market has come to — cashing in with sequels to remakes. Clash of the Titans made just enough money for Warner Brothers to crank out a perfunctory sequel and that’s exactly what audiences will be getting this weekend. Wrath of the Titans is the product of high paid Hollywood studio employees going through the motions. The script recycles the formula of the last movie almost scene-by-scene, the actors appear bored, and even the giant CGI monsters that will be selling tickets look like they were cranked out without much thought. It’s a movie made on autopilot that’s sure to bore audiences just as much as it clearly bored the filmmakers.
Sam Worthington makes a return as Perseus, giving one of his patented personality-free performances that could have been played just as effectively as by one of his carboard cutouts left over from the Clash of the Titans marketing campaign. He’s now a daddy in ancient Greece who has sworn off fighting monsters. Unfortunately his daddy Zeus (Liam Neeson) is in a bit of a pickle, which draws Perseus out of retirement. You see, that pesky Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is back and plans to resurrect the fire-powered supermonster Kronos by draining Zeus of his powers.
The only thing that can stop Kronos is a super-duper-mega-weapon made by combining several regular old super-weapons like Poseidon’s trident. So, Perseus sets out on a new quest along with a fresh love interest (the gorgeous Rosamund Pike as Queen Andromeda) and a comic relief ragamuffin (Toby Kebbell’s Agenor, who is at least supposed to be funny). Along the way they meet eccentric side characters and of course fight giant monsters until they have to slay the most giant monster of them all (well, the biggest one since the last movie, anyway).
Making an entertaining move about ancient Greek warriors fighting legendary beasts should be easy, yet everyone involved in the project seems to have proven that the results can in fact be boring. The story offers little of interest. The actors perform their dry dialogue so half-heartedly that you can practically see them checking their watches for the lunch break (this is particularly true of Neeson and Fiennes who are barely in the movie and probably only showed up out of contractual obligations).
Even the action scenes prove to be irritating because Battle Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman decided to shoot the sequences using his patented shaky cam technique, ensuring that you can never tell who is actually winning a fight until it’s over (throw in some crappy post-converted 3D and you’ve got yourself an audience with a headache).
I suppose the studio is banking on the fact that the 12-year-old target audience will eat it up because they don’t know that this sort of thing can be done so much better. Hopefully all those kids will go see The Hunger Games for a third time this weekend instead and Wrath of the Titans will be a deserved box office bomb. If no one went out to see John Carter when some creative people were at least trying to create an interesting fantasy epic, then let's hope this infinitely worse slice of fantasy claptrap meets the same fate.
The Ugly: Mirror Mirror
In fairness the “ugly” label I’ve bestowed onto Mirror Mirror should not be taken literally. The one thing this movie does have going for it are the visuals. That’s director Tarsem Singh’s specialty and his films The Cell and The Fall are two of the most gorgeous movies that you’re likely to see. The man knows how to create a painterly, exaggerated world and then exquisitely photograph it within beautifully composed frames.
Unfortunately, that’s all he can do. Singh was born to create eye-popping commercials and music videos because the guy just doesn’t know how to tell a story. Mirror Mirror is his take on the Snow White tale and the only way to make a new Snow White film worth seeing would be come up with some sort of original take on the material. There’s nothing of the sort here, just flat jokes, a convoluted storyline, and wooden performances. As a piece of storytelling, this movie is an ugly mess that no pretty picture can save.
This Snow White story comes from the perspective of the wicked Queen (Julia Roberts). The basic set-up is the same (murdered king, magic mirror, imprisoned princess who is “the fairest of them all,” etc), but from there things change. There’s a financial crisis in the kingdom and the Queen decides she needs to wed a king to bail her out. While looking for suitors she finds a prince charming (Armie Hammer), but he’s got a thing for Snow White and so the Queen has her banished.
Snow White ends up meeting seven dwarves, bandits who rob anyone who passes through the forest. They fall for Snow White though and she suggests they do the ol’ Robin Hood “rob from the rich, give to the poor” thing. The dwarves agree and train her to be their full-sized fighting leader. Prince charming ends up finding Snow White in the woods, their romance is rekindled, the queen gets pissed, yadda, yadda, yadda, happily ever after. This is one of those fractured fairy tales style takes on a classic, trying to liven up the story with some subversive comedy twists. Unfortunately for that to work it has to be clever and funny, which Mirror Mirror most certainly ain’t.
The production and costume design meetings for Mirror Mirror must have been extraordinary, filled with an overabundance of brilliant ideas (a costume ball with Roberts in a peacock enhanced gown and Snow White dressed as a swan complete with the bird’s head as a hat is a particular standout). Any frame from this film would be suitable for the poster and would draw people in. It’s just a shame that there weren’t any script meetings with even half as many ideas. The twists in the formula feel like desperate attempts to make this rendition of Snow White different rather than anything suggesting a new take on an old yarn.
The comedy, whether it be visual slapstick or verbal sparring, never delivers a laugh. Singh may have a sense of humor in person, but he’s got no idea of how to translate it to the screen. The actors all appear lost, but it’s difficult to blame them for bad performances given the limp material. Roberts works her movie star charm with all her might, but she never comes off as entertainingly wicked as it’s clear everyone was striving for. She’s lost in the distracting visual designs and drab writing along with everyone else.
The film is a total mess and it’s hard to imagine even audiences of children finding anything to enjoy beyond the images. Kids three and under might enjoy it because that’s all they’ll be able to take in, but everyone else needs to stay far, far away.