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|“Find and fulfill your destiny,” Sir Laurence Olivier intoned in his precise British accent in the junky
1981 Clash of the Titans to his son the sexy, toga draped Harry Hamlin as the demigod Perseus.
Hamlin’s Perseus, naïve but a quick study, was helped in his quest for glory and the hand of the sexy
maiden Andromeda – slated to be sacrificed to the sea monster known as the Kraken – by gifts from
the Gods – a sword, shield, and a mechanical owl. Along the way, various monsters realized in part
by the renowned low rent special effects of Ray Harryhausen tried to prevent Perseus from completing
Now Perseus – this time in the personage of Avatar star Sam Worthington – and company are back in
a new, big budget remake of the Greek myth. But the screenwriters for this Clash, helmed by hot
action director Louis Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) makes a critical misstep. By re-
imagining Perseus as a hothead, mad at the Gods and caught between the struggle for power
between Zeus (Liam Neeson filling in for Olivier) and Hades (played by Ralph Fiennes with the same
raspy voice he employs for Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) instead of a hero in training who gets
help from the eccentric Gods and their human helpers (no pissed off Maggie Smith, luscious Ursula
Andress or character actor supreme Burgess Meredith this time out), Letterier diminishes half the fun
(all the prattle about humans not needing the Gods is a drag on the picture, too). We’re left with a
series of mostly flat, familiar, effects driven battle sequences (the Medusa segment is a good one,
though) intercut with Perseus and company trekking across rocky terrain shot on high amplified by a
booming musical score (The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an obvious reference point throughout).
Late in the picture Perseus gets a case of the hots for his fellow demigod Io (Gemma Atherton).
“Ease your storm” she says to cool his ardor and the big laugh that greets the line points out a dual
problem with the film. Besides being too serious and not filled with enough cheesy lines or juicy
characters (the blue eyed tree-like creature with the bark skin being an exception), its biggest
mistake is that it’s not sexy. One of the inherent pleasures of the Harryhausen Greek mythology
pictures (Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans) is that everything – even the monsters
(including the dread Kraken) – had a subconscious sexiness – a hallmark of Greek mythology that
Harryhausen understood but which is sadly missing in this remake (and with hunks Mads Mikkelsen,
Jason Flemyng, and Nicholas Hoult onboard that’s a crime).
The essential problem is that Worthington, Hollywood’s latest action hero darling who has previously
headlined Terminator Salvation and Avatar is literally dead wood on screen. You don’t for a moment
believe that Worthington is turned on by Io or really, by anything. Worthington acts with an intense
glower or a passive glower, cracking a smile once in awhile and that’s about it. Subtly and shading
has so far eluded him onscreen (it was less noticeable in the James Cameron picture because he’s a
computer special effect for most of that movie). Though he’s quickly become the action producers go
to guy he has so far shown none of the personality or physicality to connect with audiences ala Hugh
Jackman, Daniel Craig and to a lesser degree, Christian Bale. “He may be a demigod but he’s still
mortal” is a line that’s said to describe Perseus and it’s particularly apt because – until evidence is
provided to the contrary – that’s also a good description for Worthington’s onscreen persona. At this
point he’s half a star at best.
A note about the 3D: the film wasn’t shot in the new process that has moviegoers eagerly lining up
left and right, adds little to the film and at moments actually darkens it to the point where it’s hard to
see what’s going on.
“Gettin’ old ain’t for sissies,” Bette Davis once famously remarked but it might not be quite as tough
to contemplate if one knew that a caretaker like the patient, resourceful Gianni was going to be
around to fetch, carry and cook up delicious meals. Gianni is the quiet eye of the quiet storm in Mid-
August Lunch, a nicely observed, slice of life comedy from Italy opening this Friday at Chicago’s
Music Box Theatre.
Gianni’s winningly played with remarkable finesse by his namesake Gianni De Gregorio, who co-wrote
the film and makes his directorial debut with the movie. De Gregorio’s writing and directorial style
matches his performance – it’s all in the details in this loving, gentle movie where not much seems to
happen during Pranzo di Ferragosto, the long Roman summer holiday weekend.
The middle aged Gianni is a confirmed bachelor who lives with his 93 year-old mother in their
cramped apartment in Rome (it’s never clear whether the son is gay or straight). Money is tight and
to save on back fees owed to the condo association Gianni agrees to look after Marina, the mother of
the building manager during the long holiday weekend. Nonplussed, the building manager arrives
with mother and Aunt Maria in tow leaving both on Gianni’s doorstep. Next a doctor friend gets Gianni
to agree to watch his mother Grazia for the holiday, too – complete with her dietary restrictions and
list of medications.
Naturally, complications galore ensue – a fight over the TV, Grazia cheating on her diet, Marina
locking herself in her room, Gianni’s mother refusing to eat in the kitchen, etc. But the to-dos seem
to arise naturally (one could argue that the movie’s hyper realistic approach makes it a good
example of the mumblecore genre – senior citizen style). Throughout, the harried Gianni pleads with
his mother (who is never seen without her blond wig), “Let’s not get snippy” in between drinking
copious amounts of wine and sneaking out for cigarettes. Eventually, one of the ladies takes off into
the night with the panic-stricken Gianni hot on her heels.
But by lunchtime the next day, all is right with the world and the sun-drenched dining room with the
delectable meal cooked up by Gianni is the occasion for nostalgic toasts, shared memories, gossip
and gentle laughter. Happy to have survived the weekend and pleased with each other’s company,
the characters dance about over the end credits. Another reason to celebrate: there hasn’t been a
cloying, forced or maudlin moment in Di Gigorio’s movie which turns out to be nothing more – and
nothing less – than a delightful homage to the simple pleasures that life can offer no matter the
age. This – from the writer of the ultra violent Italian mob drama Gomorrah – is perhaps the biggest
and most endearing surprise of Mid-August Lunch. Subtitled.