Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

This is one of those “the books-are-better-than-the movie” feeling. Still, for those who haven’t read the the books they will experience the thrill of battling mythical creatures, and the excitement of a quest. Common, eh? Yeah. Juvenile, er, Young Adult fiction reads that way, so if you’re an adult, you better expect it or you’ll hate it to bits. Rick Riordan’s premise is very promising and ambitious, and if you’re looking forward to more adventures, hell, you better wait up for the next installments for the great epic build-up for this (that’s 4 more movies to go).

Likes: the effects were great especially for the fury, the hydra, the pen-sword, the Underworld journey, Percy’s manipulation of water (parting of the Red Sea is that you?), sand-like travel. The movie is fast-paced like the book. The heroes’ cabins were pretty much like open cottages, and Poseidon’s having the scenic lake view was cool. Steve Coogan as the Mick Jagger-ish Hades. Kevin McKidd as the ruggedly handsome Poseidon. Pierce Brosnan as the fatherly Chiron.

Dislikes: they give the whole plot in the first scene! So much for mystery there. It lacks angsty build-up of the “troubled” boy in Percy, and he just comes off as a handsome jerk. The book was explicit in explaining his very aimless life until shocking surprises didn’t leave him enough time to breathe. The camp supposedly sits on top of the hill, because a very important icon there stands for a reason. It also felt amateur-ish, when it’s supposed to be a hardcore boot camp because they’re supposed to fight mythical creatures! They’re vicious kids, they can already kill. They also didn’t show the U-shaped position of the cabins of the demi-gods to mimic their parents, but I guess they’ll introduce that later on. The minotaur seemed like a digital joke.

Annabeth was too nice! She was bitingly nasty to Percy in the first 3 books, and her wit as Athena’s daughter wasn’t highlighted. She was just too pretty. Zeus was too nice too! He’s supposed to be raging mad all throughout even if the lightning bolt was returned to him because that’s the source of his power, like air to breathing. Sorry, Sean Bean. I liked you better in LOTR. Luke was bland. He’s supposed to be charmingly sinister. And he will become hardcore evil too, so that actor better intensify in the next few movies. He’s Percy’s number 1 rival…so there’s a hint for you, dear readers.

Consider this as mythology for dummies. If you’re up for Clash of the Titans, you may be more familiar with your Greek gods & goddesses after this.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

They say that most children’s books aren’t really suitable for children because of the adult issues masked in the cuteness and fluff of characters, and this particular one by Maurice Sendak got psychologically darker when the 10 line story became a full-length screenplay by Spike Jonze & Dave Eggers.  Max, a lonely boy looking for attention, creates a wreck in their house that makes his mother call him a “wild thing,” and his escape to fantasy land brings him to a forest where he meets big, furry creatures each embodying a peculiar personality. He pretends to be a king and he instructs them to build a fort that will serve as their home, but when Carol (the furry in the picture) threw a tantrum, their “kingdom” falls apart. Misunderstanding bothers the two friends, and Max stops pretending to be a king and decides to go back home. He reconciles with his mother and comes home to a hot supper that fills his hungry tummy.

In the illustrated book, Max looks more like an angrier Dennis the Menace persona. The drawn, scowling face is a huge contrast to the softer, handsomer features of the child actor named also Max (Records) in real-life.  Max (in the movie) is a beautiful but sad boy who misses his sister and mother because they’re busy with their men. He runs away and jumps on a boat on a lake, and the cinematography of his journey across the sea to reach the forest was beautiful; the sand dunes walk and tumble of Carol and Max to the secret cave was breathtaking.  The animatronic costumes of the furries were made by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, and the 6 towering creatures both amused and creeped me out. I felt really scared by the thought of being swiped or  eaten by them (the music to accompany the scenes where they were wary of Max amped up the feeling)! They felt too real I confused it for a parallel universe, it didn’t feel like a figment of his imagination. The movie is a very good artistic companion to Sendak’s very short book because it befittingly explored the psychological journey of a troubled kid’s confrontation of his alter egos to find a path to a resolution and decision which did not deviate far from the essence of the book’s story.  Max just wanted to feel loved again, to bond with his mother and stay in the comfort of his home. His journey home as he said his goodbyes to the furries made me cry. It was sad to see Carol cry and howl, but Max’s excitement to go home with a smile on his face while running really fast was a nice happy ending.

Go see it! Trivia: Tom Hanks produced this movie.

Whiteout

Three bodies’ worth of blood is still not enough to warm the plot of this movie adaptation.  The movie  starring Kate Beckinsale is based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber that was nominated for the Eisner Award. I can imagine how the art would look like on paper: a succession of black ink over white space, a series of implied scenarios of a mysterious murderer revealed towards the end holding only a pick axe and covered in winter gear from head to foot. Well, that’s basically what the movie is about.  Unappreciated people trying to regain their self-esteem is the theme, and a silly way of punishing themselves is by volunteering for jobs in the South Pole.  How about that? Their search for redemption is quite absurd, and of course, the protagonist (Beckinsale) becomes the heroine and the poor mislead villain is her boss who traded his dignity for theft of diamonds from a frozen Russian aircraft. Hilarious.

In fairness, the chase scenes are quite exciting, when the actors are trying to not be blown away by the arctic windstorm while strapped on the lines that could lead them from one building to another. Other than this, it’s a really shallow plot that could be effective only on paper, but not on the big screen.

Sorry, thumbs down for me.