Monday, April 5, 2010

Release the Kraken: My Epic New-Car Adventure and a CLASH OF THE TITANS Review!

I'm back, and what a crazy weekend it was. It already felt like a crowded weekend before all of this craziness went down. But when my car started chugging earlier in the week - first on Tuesday night and then throughout the week, I had a feeling things were about to get ugly.

After taking my car to Pepboys on Friday and seeing the astronomical repair bill, I saw the writing on the wall. It was time for a new car. I had started the car-searching process a few months back, but after a couple of too-intense weekends of braving the hell that is used-car dealerships, I had mentally put it all on hold for a bit. The fact is that, despite its many problems over the years, I liked my 1999 Oldsmobile Alero. It was cool-looking (I thought), it drove well, it had comfortable seats and despite some hiccups it served me well through five years of crappy LA traffic, endless instances where I was late to something and rushing to get somewhere, and it came through for me in many a jam (traffic and otherwise). I am sad to see my shiny red Alero go, but alas, its time had come.

So on Friday afternoon (a day in which our office got out early for Good Friday), I wearily began the task of looking for a new (well, used) car. Although, certain stars did seem to be in alignment. I had had my eye on '09 Hyundai Sonatas, and earlier in the week I noticed some online ads for that very model at Universal City Nissan, a place I had visited several weeks back while I was looking at Altimas. So Friday afternoon, I test drove the on-sale Sonata and then had to go through the stress of talking to the salespeople and making it clear that I wasn't quite ready to buy anything yet. I love how these guys just expect you to drop thousands of dollars at the drop of a hat. Like, I can spend weeks researching a $50 or $100 purchase, and now I'm going to shell out way bigger bucks within an hour? Anyways, Friday I test-drove, researched, etc. And Saturday, I was back, scrambling to seal the deal. It was not a fun process. There are so many things to think about when buying a car that it's hard to keep everything straight. And you feel like somehow you are getting screwed the whole time. I mean, I spent twenty minutes just arguing over whether I could make the purchase but then pick up the car and trade in my old one the next day. What did they care if they had to keep the car on the lot for one more day? But they acted as if I was asking for them to move heaven and earth. I needed that extra day though, because Sunday morning I spent a while cleaning out the old Alero before finally bringing it in to the dealer and making the swap. Of course, within minutes of driving away I thought of about 5 questions / issues (wait, wasn't I supposed to have a keyless entry key fob thing?). Ugh. This is why I support the idea of a place like Carmax, even though their prices are too high. I like the idea though of a place that does honest business and isn't trying to rip you at every turn. I'm not saying Universal City Nissan was out to get me, per se - my general complaint is just that most used car places, especially here in LA, are so concerned with making the sale that they forget to actually provide a great customer experience and make sure that everything is good to go when you drive away.

So, yeah, new car. Very exciting, if not slightly traumatic. I need a couple weeks of normalcy though, or I will go into systemic shock.

- Otherwise, the big event this past weekend, the one that had been planned for a while, was my trip to the KROQ April Foolishness comedy show, over at Gibson Ampitheater at Universal Citywalk. This was my second year going to the show, and it's a pretty amazing lineup of comedians. I think last year had the more impressive lineup overall though - some of the highlights from that show, guys like Patton Oswalt, Ray Romano, and Kevin Nealon - were missing this time around. Also, I wouldn't say that last year's crowd was spectacular, but this year's crowd seemed particularly lame. People were laughing their asses off at some of the lamest jokes, and yet were fairly silent for a guy like Aziz Ansari, who I thought was the funniest act of the night. The crowd had no idea what to make of Sarah Silverman either. It was definitely more of an alpha male / semi-dumb crowd. Not the geeky, semi-hipsterish crowd that those two usually cater to. And for that reason, a guy like Joe Rogan tore the house down. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It just became clear that, as the show went on, a lot of the comedians weren't necessarilly bringing their A-games, and that the crowd wasn't ultra-responsive to a lot of them given how varied the comedic styles were. That said, it was still a super-impressive lineup of comedians: Jimmy Kimmell, Adam Corrolla, Jay Mohr, Bill Burr, Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Joe Rogan ... it was just that a lot of them were clearly dipping into the well and doing old material, not really catering to people who were already fans. Also, comedy shows in big ampitheaters can be sort of obnoxious - at least in this one. The air conditioning was blasting the entire night, making it absolutely freezing, and the accoustics were such that everything was ultra-loud - tuned more for a rock concert than for a really loud guy like Bill Burr screaming into the mic for forty minutes. Overall though, there were definitely some gems in there, and it there was definitely the "wow" factor of seeing so many big names up on stage, one after the other. Still, especially given the ticket prices of the event, I think I'd rather stick to smaller venues and with crowds that actually get the comedians on-stage from now on.

- Okay, so our plan for Saturday was to sneak in a showing of CLASH OF THE TITANS prior to the comedy show. We planned on a late afternoon show at Citywalk, and I just barely made it there after spending all day at the car dealership. But I made it just in time, ran into the theater, found a comfortable seat, and sat back to see an epic tale of gods and heroes. Things were going alright, I was enjoying the movie, and then, about an hour and a quarter into the film ... THE MOVIE DIED! Right as we were getting to the big, climactic battle (and Liam Neeson's already-famous "Unleash the Kraken!" line), the film strip appeared to burn out. Ugh! The crowd was pissed. Me especially so, as this is not the first time something like this has happened to me at Citywalk. I am referring, of course, to the famous Dark Knight incident from a few years back, in which our opening-night screening of DK abruptly ended when the IMAX projector got f'd up. I'm telling you, that theater needs to get its act together, bigtime.

So ... what did I think of Clash of the Titans? Read on ...


- Clash of the Titans isn't a great movie, but I had fun with it. What it lacks in strong characters or a memorable plot, it semi-makes up for with several nicely-done action set-pieces and a number of kickass creatures that our heroes must face in mortal combat. There's just enough juice in this one to make it an enjoyable ride. Still, it's a disappointing film in that it clearly could have been so much more. There are a couple of great actors in the mix here that never get used to their full potential. And that's in large part due to a script that is fairly lifeless and lacking in great drama. Director Luis Letterier does his best to craft a visually exciting film, but the story just isn't there to get you invested in any of the action in a meaningful way. With that in mind, Clash is still a breezy way to waste a couple of hours.

The movie wastes little time in getting right to the action. And it continues at a brisk pace that rarely pauses to take a breath. That makes for a movie that's rarely boring, but it also means that the film progresses along with only the most basic videogame-style logic driving it forward. and that's fitting, because our hero, Perseus, is even more cookie cutter than your typical Playstation protagonist. In fact, in a movie like this, in which so much of the visual and conceptual style seems to be ripped from the God of War games, you'd hope to at least have a hero in the same league as a guy like Kratos - the vengeance-seeking badass who stars in that series. But Perseus is no Kratos, he's generic through and through, and Sam Worthington's portrayal won't exactly be put up there with the great movie heroes. Worthington can be an effective badass, but in this movie he really has nothing to work with, and he isn't the kind of guy who's going to elevate the material singlehandedly. So again, you get that videogame like effect where the hero is basically a blank slate, generic, sword-wielding action hero. Even his motivations are a little suspect. He is the bastard son of Zeus and wants revenge on the gods for killing his adoptive family, but proceeds to risk his life for a city he's never been to and a princess he's never met.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have some guys who certainly *can* elevate material by virtue of being Oscar-caliber actors. Liam Neeson plays Zeus, the head of the Greek god pantheon, and his performance is a lot of fun, even if he doesn't really get to do much except for utter the occasional kewl-sounding line like "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!". Ralph Fiennes also does a fine job acting dark and creepy and sinister as Hades, lord of the underworld. He chews up scenery when given the chance, and it's fun seeing him and Neeson go at it.

Otherwise though, there aren't really many standouts. Gemma Arterton is fine as demigod and love interest Io, but the character is only given very, very broad outlines. She has a token moment or two of sexual tension with Perseus, but not enough to really believe that the two are star-crossed lovers or anything. Meanwhile, I was annoyed tat Perseus was given this big, Lord of the Rings style fellowship to accompany him on his adventures, and yet all of them pretty much suck as characters, with barely distinguishable looks or personalities. They're basically just cannon fodder for cool CGI monters like Medusa. There's one crazy-looking sand sorcerer creature in the group, but he doesn't speak and we don't even really know why he sticks around after he helps the crew fight off some giant scorpion things. He just sort of stands there and looks crazy. So, yeah, Chewbacca he is not.

At the end of the day, Clash is a giant theme park ride of a movie, and in that sense I enjoyed it. I got a kick out of being hurtled from one epic battle to another - from the city of Argos to Mt. Olympus to the Arabian desert to the river Styx to Medusa's lair - and finally a pretty rousing, epic finale involving that giant Kraken (not exactly from Greek myth, but whatever ...). But, you have to feel a little underwhelmed at the lack of substance to the movie. You never really care about any of the characters, and there just isn't a lot of dramatic intensity to the story. There are some very nice visuals (although choppy and confusing editing in certain scenes takes away from the action), and an overall sense of mostly light-hearted fun. Still, the movie leaves you wanting a bigger, better, and more substantive take on Greek myth - as this one just barely cuts it.

Note: I saw the film in 2D, and really had no desire to see the retroactively-done 3D version. 3D is cool when a movie is specifically tailored for it, but why waste time giving movies a slight three-dimensional makeover if it creates messy f/x and blurry visuals? Stick with 2D for this one, says I.

My Grade: B

- Okay: up next: CHUCK and 24!

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