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Creatively restless, Chris Columbus is full of surprises In Focus by Richard Crouse FOR METRO CANADA February 12, 2010

Percy-percy-jackson-and-the-olympians-28518434-1920-1080At first glance, director Chris Columbus’s new film seems like a callback to his earlier work.

This weekend’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is based on a popular book series about a teenager with special powers who must battle supernatural forces.

Can you say “Harry Potter?” Sure, just don’t say it near the filmmaker, who directed the first two films in the J.K. Rowling series and produced the third.

“It’s nothing like Harry Potter,” he told the New Zealand Herald. “I wouldn’t have gotten involved in a picture that was too similar to Potter. I hadn’t seen a film like this before, and that was the reason I wanted to do it.”

In fact, other than with sequels, he rarely repeats himself.

His resume as a writer (Gremlins), producer (Jingle All the Way) and director (Rent) reveals a variety of styles and topics. He’s no stranger to comedy, having helmed the Home Alone movies; no stranger to romance, as he proved with Only the Lonely, no stranger to teen fare or musicals, and in between those he’s covered most other genres.

Nestled among his blockbusters are a number of deserving lesser known titles.

In the comedy Heartbreak Hotel, he added a chapter to the mythology of Elvis Presley.

Starring Tuesday Weld — The King’s Wild in the Country co-star — and David Keith as Elvis, the movie centers on Johnny Wolfe’s (Charlie Schlatter) scheme to kidnap the singer and bring him home to cheer up his ailing mom (Weld).

It’s very silly, but Elvis fans will enjoy the sly tributes sprinkled throughout — Weld’s motel is called The Flaming Star — and a soundtrack ripe with new versions of Elvis chestnuts like That’s All Right and Hound Dog performed by David Keith and polka kings The Bavarian Village Band.

As a writer Columbus prepped himself for eventually helming the Potter movies by penning Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear.

Directed by Barry Levinson, the story of young Holmes and Watson meeting and solving a boarding school mystery is primarily notable as the first movie to feature a completely computer-generated character in the form of a knight created from a stained glass window.

Columbus is a restless storyteller who can’t be pinned down.

He’s someone who blazes his own path and tales chances.

I mean, who else would cast Uma Thurman as a snake-haired Medusa?

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