“PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief” (2010) Review

“PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief” (2010) Review

Last winter, I discovered there was another literary children’s fantasy franchise other than ”HARRY POTTER” that became a best seller. Well, I am certain there are more than two of these franchises that I am not aware of. But I certainly became aware of the PERCY JACKSON franchise when I saw the trailer for ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: The Lightning Thief”.

The ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” series had been created by a best-selling mystery writer named Rick Riordan. The novels centered around a New York City boy named Percy Jackson who discovered he was a demigod – the offspring of a mortal woman named Sally Jackson and the Greek god Poseidon. He also discovered that his best friend, a physically disabled young man named Grover Underwood was really a satyr assigned to be his protector.

This particular movie is an adaptation of the series’ first novel, ”The Lightning Thief”. Following the discovery of his true identity, a fury disguised as a substitute teacher attacked him during a field trip, while accusing him of stealing the powerful lightning bolt that belonged to his uncle – Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and god of the sky and thunder. He also discovered that one of his other teachers – Mr. Brunner, was the centaur, Chiron at a place for demigods called Camp Half-Blood. His other uncle, Hades, informed Percy that he has his mother in captivity, and is willing to exchange her for Zeus’ lightning bolt. He also learned that he has two weeks to return the lightning bolt or a war will commence between Zeus and his father Poseidon – a war that might have negative repercussions on the mortal world. In the hopes that Hades can convince Zeus of his innocence of the theft, Percy sets out to find to find an entrance to the Underworld, along with three pearls that can help him make a quick exit from that domain. Grover and the demigod daughter of Athena named Annabeth Chase accompany him.

I did not harbor any high expectations before I saw ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS”. As I had stated earlier, I have never read any of Riordan’s novels. And considering it had been released during the pre-summer season, I did not expect to enjoy it very much. And yet . . . I did. Much to my surprise. I found the story to be an engaging and entertaining story filled with family drama, humor, actor and dazzling special effects. More importantly – at least for me – the movie’s running time seemed perfect. Not too short and not too long. I also enjoyed the three main characters’ encounters with a variety of characters from Greek mythology during their journey that included a Mintaur, Medusa, and the Lotus Eaters. Most importantly, Percy’s quest to find entry to the Underworld and the three pearls resulted in a travelogue that took the heroes from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via New Jersey, Nashville and Las Vegas. And I just love road trips in movies.

”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” does not have the same quality of special effects that had enhanced theHARRY POTTER films. Why did I mention HARRY POTTER? Well, the director of this movie, Chris Columbus, had also directed the first two HARRY POTTER films. And yet, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS had a slightly more mature style. I suppose that was due to its main characters being four or five years older than the three mainHARRY POTTER characters in their early films. I understand that the Percy Jackson character was younger in the literary version of ”The Lightning Thief”. Since I have never read the novel . . . or intend to, I do not care.

The cast of ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” struck me as pretty solid. Columbus did a good job in steering the actors through the movie. And Logan Lerman, who portrayed Percy, turned out to be better than I had expected. But aside from four performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast. Who are these four exceptional performers? One of them turned out to be Uma Thurman, who gave a deliciously wicked performance as Medusa, the gorgon who used her eyes to turn humans and other beings into stone for her garden collection. I also enjoyed Steve Coogan’s rather wild and sexy take on the god, Hades. And I must say that I found him surprisingly sexy. And Rosario Dawson also gave a sexy performance as Persephone, the parthenogenic woman who became Hades’ bored and put upon consort in the Underworld. In fact, one of her sexiest moments occurred when she flirted with a very interested Grover. Speaking of Grover, Brandon T. Jackson gave a hilarious performance as the satyr who happened to be Percy’s best friend. I found him brave, resourceful, witty and an absolute hoot.

”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” was not the best fantasy film I have ever seen. In some ways, it came off as a poor man’s HARRY POTTER. This is especially apparent in the film’s depiction of Camp Half-Blood, the training camp located off Long Island for children with a Greek god as a parent. It looked so half-assed that I could only shake my head in disbelief. And its production values were certainly not of the same quality as any of the POTTER films or many others I can recall. But I found the movie enjoyable to watch and would have no qualms about seeing it again.

“CAPOTE” (2005) Review

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”CAPOTE” (2005) Review

I finally got around to watching the first of two movies about writer Truman Capote and his work on the non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”. This particular movie, “CAPOTE”, starred American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who eventually won a SAG award, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for his performance.

Penned by actor Dan Futterman and directed by Bennett Miller, “CAPOTE” turned out to be a more somber affair than its 2006 counterpart, “INFAMOUS”. Miller had once commented that he wanted to create a more subtle portrait of the flamboyant author in order to emphasize on Capote’s lonely and alienated state . . . despite his relationships with authors, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood); and his popularity with New York high society. This subtle approach not only permeated the movie’s tone and pace, it also affected the cast’s performances – especially Hoffman and Clifton Collins Jr., as Perry Smith.

I do not know if I would have automatically given Philip Seymour Hoffman that Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote. I am still inclined toward Heath Ledger receiving the award for his performance in “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. But I must admit that Hoffman certainly deserved his nomination. He managed to skillfully portray Capote’s ambition and determination to create a literary masterpiece from the real life murders surrounding the Herb Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Hoffman also revealed how Capote used his charm to manipulate others . . . especially Perry Smith.

Catherine Keener earned both BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for her warm portrayal of “To Kill Mockingbird” author, Nelle Harper Lee. Granted, she deserved her nominations and I especially enjoyed how she managed to project a mixture of friendly warmth, reserve and moral fortitude in her performance. But I could not help but wonder if she could receive acting nominations, why not Clifton Collins, Jr.?

It seemed a shame that more praise had not been heaped upon Clifton Collins’ shoulders for his portrayal of the intense and soft-spoken convicted murderer, Perry Smith. His scenes with Hoffman gave the movie an extra bite of emotionalism that saved it from being too subtle. Like Daniel Craig’s performance of Smith in “INFAMOUS”, Collins brought an interesting balance of soft-spoken politeness and intense danger in his performance. Well . . . almost. The real KBI investigator in charge of the Clutter case, Alvin Dewey, had once described Perry Smith as a quiet, intense and dangerous man. In “CAPOTE”, Smith’s own sister had warned Capote that despite her brother’s quiet and polite demeanor, he was easily capable of committing the crimes against the Clutters. And yet, I never did sense any real danger in Collins’ performance. Not quite. Except in two scenes – namely his confrontation with Capote over the “In Cold Blood” title; and the flashbacks revealing the Clutters’ murders. The ironic thing is that I suspect that Collins was not to blame. I suspect that Miller’s direction and Futterman’s script simply did not really allow Collins to reveal Smith’s more dangerous aura.

All of this led to what became my main problem with “CAPOTE” – namely the somber subtlety that seemed to permeate the production. Not only did the director’s desire to create a subtle film seem to mute Collins’ potential for a more balanced portrayal of Perry Smith, it also forced Hoffman to hold back some of Capote’s more flamboyant traits. I am quite certain that this was both the director and the screenwriter’s intentions. But I also feel that this deliberate attempt at subtlety may have robbed both the Capote and Smith characters of a more balanced nuance. It also denied the audience a deeper look into Capote’s New York lifestyle and bogged down the movie’s pacing in the end. During the last thirty or forty minutes, I found myself begging for the movie to end.

But despite the movie’s “too somber” mood and pacing, “CAPOTE” is an excellent movie and I would highly recommend it for viewing.

8/10