The Clash of the Titans (PG-13) ★★★☆☆
In spite of its miscasting of Sam Worthington as Perseus (enough with the Aussie accent) and a lame CGI snake-bodied Medusa, The Clash of the Titans is an enjoyable spectacle. Director Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2) makes the most of big action set pieces that necessarily include an intense battle with giant black scorpions and a confrontation with three evil Stygian witches. To all the critical pissing and moaning about this modern update of the Desmond Davis 1981 original, I say pishaw. Solid supporting performances from Liam Neeson as Zeus, Ralph Fiennes as Hades, and Mads Mikkelsen as Draco add significant gravitas to the film’s churning momentum. When Hades visits Zeus to set in motion a plan to unleash the Kraken to destroy Argos and kill Andromeda, only Perseus has the power to save the city by battling the gigantic beast.
Hot Tub Time Machine (R) ★★☆☆☆
Considering John Cusack produced this lackluster comedy where three guys (Rob Corddry, Cusack and Craig Robinson) travel back to their ’80s-era heyday, Time Machine should at least feature cool music à la High Fidelity. Instead we get hair metal. Chevy Chase is wasted in a minor role, as is Crispin Glover. Homosexual hijinks and poorly executed slapstick pratfalls attend this sloppy comedy.
Leaves of Grass (R) ★★★★☆
Tim Blake Nelson retains his status as an adventurous filmmaker with this familial comedy of errors. Edward Norton does dual character duty as identical twin brothers from the country: Ivy league prof Bill Kincaid and the pot-growing brother whom he’s denounced. Nelson’s mixed bag of violence, poetic references, philosophy and stereotypes find their balance in Norton’s brilliant acting.
When You’re Strange (R) ★★★☆☆
Although laden with pathetically written narration by filmmaker Tom DiCillo about what an “icon” Jim Morrison was, When You’re Strange provides a treasure trove of what must be every single scrap of film footage of Morrison and his overrated band, The Doors. Johnny Depp reads DiCillo’s 5th-grade-reading-level script that covers every major aspect of Morrison’s ascent to rock god status and his alcoholic fall from grace. Interview footage with the band’s keyboardist Ray Manzarek provides the film’s main talking-head viewpoint. If anything, DiCillo’s over-insistence about Morrison’s influence on pop culture, and the band’s influence on music, comes off as vastly overstated. When You’re Strange unintentionally confirms what most rock historians admit, which is that ’60s and ’70s era rock poet singers Iggy Pop and Lou Reed put Jim Morrison to shame.
Greenburg (R) ★★★★☆
The desolation of the 21st-century filters through the midlife crisis of Ben Stiller’s title character in Noah Baumbach’s edgy rom-com. Stiller house-sits for his more successful sibling (Chris Messina), while he dates his brother’s personal assistant (Greta Gerwig). With Greenberg, Baumbach and wife/co-story writer Jennifer Jason Leigh fearlessly stare into a social abyss that’s swallowing up a country forced into stagnation.
The Runways (R) ★★★☆☆
This film follows the crash-and-burn experiences of the 1970s all-girl rock band of the same name. Dakota Fanning delivers her best work as the bisexual vocalist, while Kristen Stewart channels Joan Jett. But Michael Shannon steals the show as their famously eccentric producer. Debut filmmaker Floria Sigismondi is keen on telescoping meta meaning, while the real Jett and record producer Kenny Laguna executive produced.
Alice in Wonderland (PG) ★★★★☆
Mia Wasikowska is ideal as Alice in Tim Burton’s juiced-up adaptation. Presented in 3-D, Burton’s filigree-filled fantasy blooms after 19-year-old Alice steps away from a 19th-century garden party. A messy tea party in “Underland” with Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter leads Alice on a journey to the Red Queen’s (Helena Bonham Carter) castle. It’s difficult to imagine another filmmaker doing justice to this well-worn children’s tale.