Clash of the Titans (2010)

I always end up watching movies in which Mads Mikkelsen is starring. So far I have never been disappointed. So far. Clash of the Titans has a weird cast but I think it says more about the cast than about the movie. While it’s a guilty pleasure with a war theme it’s not exactly a good movie with the exception of a few scenes. Despite all that, it’s fun. I liked the giant scorpions. They are really cool. Now briefly to the cast before I summarize the whole film.

Liam Neeson. There was once a time when he made good movies but recently he’s a major disappointment and since he is even in Battleship I start to have a feeling that whenever his name is on the cast list this could very well mean “avoid”. Ralph Fiennes. Yes, Ralph Fiennes. What the heck is he doing in this movie? Neeson and Fiennes both play powerful gods, while Fiennes plays the role of the bad guy – Hades, Neeson plays the role of the good one – Zeus. Both sport odd haircuts and halos that make them look like drag queen putti. Apart from these two the other actors mostly do a decent job  – or at least one that makes the movie watchable. I haven’t given up hope on Mikkelsen – he is even good in this one – but I’d advise him not to accept too many roles like this.

Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god, son of Zeus is dragged into a battle between the Gods and the mortals. Hades, God of the underworld and master of the Kraken, demands the sacrifice of Princess Andromeda, the daughter of King Cepheus of Argos who won against the gods. If Andromeda isn’t sacrificed, Hades will unleash the Kraken. King Cepheus asks Perseus, the only human capable of fighting against gods due to his half-god nature, to find a way to defeat the Kraken. Perseus accepts because Hades has killed his step family and he wants revenge. The only way to win against the Kraken is by defeating the Medusa and cutting off her head.

Many people have been offended by the liberties the movie took with Greek mythology. I didn’t expect it to render the myth of Perseus and the Medusa, I thought it would be an action movie with a Greek mythology flavour. And that’s exactly what it is. Nothing more and nothing less. If you look for two hours of entertainment and haven’t seen the first one, try it. It’s quite fun.  Did I mention the scorpions? I really liked them.

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Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

This is the second time I have watched Kingdom of Heaven. The first time I watched it on a tiny TV and thought that may have been the reason why it didn’t work for me. A few years later and with a big screen and a good sound system it still didn’t work. And this despite the fact that it is a Ridley Scott movie, the cinematography is stunning, the music – Hans Zimmer  Harry Gregson-Williams – is good and…. That’s it. … There is nothing else I can add to the plus side. OK, maybe the battle scene towards the end which seems to be one of the Top 10 battle scenes of all time. It’s good, yes, but after 2 straight hours of utter boredom, it’s hard to redevelop some sort of enthusiasm.

Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith, travels to Jerusalem with his father, Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Ibelin dies on the way but Balian travels on. The movie is set during the reign of Baldwin IV, the so-called leper king (Edward Norton behind a mask). During his reign, Jerusalem is a Kingdom of Heaven in which Christians and Muslims live together in peace. After Baldwin’s death,  the husband of Baldwin’s sister becomes king. He wants Jerusalem to be Christian. He attacks Saladin’s army but loses the battle and Saladin marches towards Jerusalem where Balian heads the army that stayed behind. After the final epic battle is lost, Balian leads the people out of the city while Saladin and his people take over.  This is more or less the core of the story.

It’s ironic really as it is precisely this boring movie, or rather what it stands for, which was the source of the only really controversial and heated discussion on this blog. A while ago I wrote a post on Movies on the Crusades: A List. It is the only post on which people still comment frequently, calling each other names and being extremely emotional. I know I could close the comments section but I don’t want to do that. I’m not a fan of censorship. I usually reply to every comment but I do not do it on that post anymore as the discussion is turning in circles and answering seems pointless. What fuelled the anger is one person’s comment that Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t historically accurate. Whatever. None of this will make me change my mind – I don’t like the Kingdom of Heaven. Here are some reasons why:

  • The story. Why do we need the side story of someone going back to get his illegitimate son and fight along with him? This story part adds at least half an hour to a movie that would have needed some serious cutting plus a main character who totally lacks charisma.
  • The length. It is way too long. I was bored after the first 25 minutes, yet had to suffer through another 2hrs.
  • The actors. Orlando Bloom is not a good actor. No amount of make-up will ever make him one. Eva Green is one of those actresses you see and forget the moment the camera isn’t on her anymore. Not exactly a fascinating couple. While some of the other actors are very good, their combinations makes the choices look very random.
  • The cinematography. It’s stunning, as I said in the beginning, but if that’s the only thing a movie has to offer it becomes annoying. “One more bluish picture and I scream”, was what I was thinking.
  •  The characters. Even if the main character had been played by someone else, it would still have been a very boring character. In his only strong moment, when he frees the slaves and decides to defend the city against all odds, he sounds like a parakeet and mimics his late father. As Orlando Bloom is a bad actor, it sounds as if he was reciting a badly learned text.
  • The history. It isn’t accurate or rather it seems a hodgepodge of historical elements.

All in all it is too bad as the movie had potential. If you would like to see a really great movie on the Crusades, watch Arn – The Knight Templar instead.

Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996) The Irish Fight For Independence

Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins is a UK/US/Ireland co-production. International productions guarantee an international cast which can be nice but in this case, I would say, it did prevent the movie from being great. There is no drama teacher in the world who will achieve to make Julia Roberts or Aidan Quinn sound Irish. Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, Alan Rickman as De Valera and a very young Johnathan Rhys Meyers, striking the fatal blow, are well-chosen.

Michael Collins was probably one of the most controversial and tragic figures of Irish history. A charismatic man who knew how to convince those who followed him. A man who wouldn’t shy away from killing yet didn’t take it lightly.

The movie starts with the Easter Rising in 1916 with Michael Collins rallying the masses against the British occupation. It would take another three years until this initial movement lead to the Irish war of Independence. It is a fierce and bloody war. A the end of the war stands the treaty, something that was unthinkable for 700 years. The British government allowed the Irish Free State but kept the Northern Provinces and wanted the Free State to swear allegiance to the king. Michael Collins considered this to be the best he could achieve and wanted to sign the treaty but the men around the future president de Valera wanted a completely free Ireland and this is where the movement for Independence split into two sections who would fight each other fiercly.

The movie shows us a Michael Collins who is tired of fighting and bloodshed and longs for peace. He is sure, if the treaty isn’t signed the bloodshed will be endless.

An important part of the movie is dedicated to the friendship between Michael Collins and his best friend Harry Boland (Aidan Quinn). For four years they are also caught up in some sort of love triangle as both men love Kitty (Julia Roberts). It takes a while until she confesses that she loves Collins. Her confession is not the only thing that drives the men apart. Politically they are not on the same page anymore. Best friends become enemies.

Michael Collins is shot in 1922 by one of de Valera’s men. This is the beginning of the Irish Civil War.

I liked the movie despite its flaws, one being, as already stated, the choice of American actors, the other being quite a few historical inaccuracies. Apparently Neil Jordan had good reasons for altering the facts. I am not sufficiently familiar with the details to point out what is correct or not. There is one particularly awful scene in which a British tank opens fire on a the players in a sports game. In reality this was much more horrible.

Michael Collins is a fascinating character and I could very well see myself read a biography in the future. He was a leader and an adept fighter. His fighting tactics seem to have inspired quite a few future struggles. The group around him was constantly hunted by British secret agents and policemen. Michael Collins’ tactic was to know more about the agents than they knew about them and then to hunt them down. There are a lot of executions to be seen as they operated according to the dictum “who is not with me is against me”. At times the movie reminded me of movies about the resistance. Torture, execution, changing of sleeping quarters etc.

A while back I reviewed another movie on the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War, The Wind that Shakes the Barely. Michael Collins is never seen but constantly spoken of in the movie so I was really curious to see this. Comparing the two movies I’m afraid I must say, The Wind that Shakes the Barley feels more authentic, it is a truly outstanding movie.

Despite its flaws Michael Collins being a Neil Jordan film offers a lot and is beautifully filmed. It is as much a character portrait, as the story of a friendship and a romance. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.